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Home» Feature (Archive) » 10 August 2009

Online system to view and study the MPAs of the world 10 Aug 2009

At a time when the world’s oceans are facing unprecedented pressures from human impacts in the marine environment, a new decision-making tool has been launched to provide the most current and relevant information about marine and coastal biodiversity and its protection status.

This marine protected areas tool (www.wdpa-marine.org), created by the United Nations Environment Programme’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), is part of the recently redeveloped World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA) - the authoritative and most globally comprehensive list of marine and terrestrial protected areas.

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The UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre press release of 8 June 2009 continues:

"Marine protected areas are critical to the future of the oceans and they will ensure that the ecosystem services on which millions of people around the world rely for their livelihoods and existence will be maintained," explained Kristian Teleki, Head of the One Ocean Programme and Director of the International Coral Reef Action Network (ICRAN) at UNEP-WCMC.

"Without Marine Protected Areas and the efforts of governments, conservation organisations and communities around the world to manage and conserve the marine environment, the future of the oceans and the diversity of life contained within them will be jeopardized."

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are locations which receive protection because of their environmental, scenic or socio-economic value. Although some countries have marine protected areas, these vary considerably in size and designation from country to country, depending on national needs and priorities, and on differences in legislative, institutional and financial support.

MPAs cover different marine and coastal environments from shallow coastal waters to the deepest sea, from polar oceans to tropical seas and often span national boundaries. When combined with other conservation measures such as spatial planning and ecosystem-based management, these areas can be very effective.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said: "Currently somewhere around 12 per cent of the land is held in protected areas, but less than one per cent of the marine environment has been given such status - so this needs to change, and to change fast too. It is our hope that the WDPA-Marine will help nations redress this imbalance and that in the next decade we will have achieved significant progress in protecting the seas through MPAs."

The WDPA-Marine serves as the data source for the marine protected area layer of Google Ocean through UNEP-WCMC's partnership with IUCN and the marine theme of IUCN's World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA).

"Obtaining and promoting accurate information on marine protected areas is a top priority. I am therefore delighted on World Oceans Day that we are launching WDPA – Marine as another critical tool alongside Protect Planet Ocean and Google Ocean to show the world how much of our seas are protected," said Dan Laffoley, Chair of IUCN's WCPA – Marine. "These new innovative approaches show everyone the urgent need for governments and all of us to radically scale up MPA networks as well as the ambition and effectiveness by which we manage marine resources."

As one of the foremost repositories of information on marine protected areas, WDPA-Marine is intended to help managers and decision makers to better understand the nature of the marine environment where human activity is regulated or restricted in order to maintain the integrity and biodiversity of the ecosystem. It is the culmination of contributions from many governments, regional partnerships, NGOs, and academicians who have participated greatly in the development and improved quality and quantity of MPA data over the past decades.

This new system allows users to view information on marine protected areas in their web browser, to visualise them in Google Earth, to download data, to bring together other important data like species and ecosystem information into the same portal and more.

The WDPA-Marine "has been designed with marine protected area practitioners, stakeholders and policy makers within conservation organisations, governments, UN agencies and multinational environmental agreements in mind," Teleki said.

UNEP-WCMC Director Jon Hutton added, "The most important element of this project is that it allows the "repatriation" of critically important biodiversity information to coastal nations which may not have their own systems. I look forward to working with many of them as they develop their capacity based around this data, which is being made freely available for the first time."

The WDPA-Marine comes as nations, communities and people around the globe mark World Oceans Day - a day designated by the United Nations to raise awareness of the current challenges faced by the international community in connection with the oceans and to seek solutions such as those offered through the establishment of marine protected areas.

Notes to editors

This press release is available in English, French, and Spanish.

The WDPA-Marine can be accessed online at www.wdpa-marine.org  

Originally established in 1981 by the IUCN and containing more than 150,000 records, the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA) provides the only comprehensive global inventory of the world's protected areas. Incorporating the official UN List of Protected Areas, this database is a key conservation resource, not only within the biodiversity community, but also for commercial organizations striving to minimize the impact of their activities on the environment.

The WDPA - Marine is supported by the public-private partnership – Proteus (http://proteus.unep-wcmc.org). Launched in 2003, this innovative partnership was created to make biodiversity information more freely available to the world and since 2006 has focused on rebuilding the WDPA and improving its quality in priority areas. The WDPA is a 'foundation' dataset for conservation activity worldwide, and central to high-level risk assessment for private sector activities that have a footprint on the natural world. The information it provides is strategic for private sector decision-making to meet their sustainability and corporate responsibility commitments.

The objectives of the WDPA-Marine are to provide:

  • the most up-to-date and comprehensive information for the analysis of marine protected areas as well as marine and coastal ecosystems;
  • the basis of the UN Millennium Development Goals and 2010 Biodiversity Indicators Partnership information on marine protection;
  • the best source of information on marine protection (throughout the world/at national and regional levels);
  • the most up-to-date spatial marine protected areas and marine and coastal ecosystems information available free of charge to view and download for non-commercial use;
  • the platform where marine protected areas spatial data is uploaded into the United Nations List of Protected Areas;
  • a official repository and back-up system for government data on marine protected areas; and
  • the foundation database for tools dealing with high-level risks associated with the development of the marine environment.

MPA and Ocean Statistics:
There are just over 5,000 marine protected areas covering more than 3.1 million sq. km


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Tel: + (662) 288 1471 ; Fax: + (662) 288 3041 / 288 1029; E-mail: IOSEA Secretariat
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