Funding source: WWF International, UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre, The Nature Conservancy, Global Environment Facility, IUCN

Protected areas (PAs) are central elements of global strategies to conserve biodiversity and can deliver many ecosystem service, social and economic benefits to society.  Questions about their relevance and effectiveness in periods of rapid biophysical and social change have prompted conservation organisations to evaluate the extent to which these reserves really do protect their values and deliver benefits to their local communities.

Currently, around 15 percent of the world’s land surface is protected, with global governments committed to expanding this to 17 percent. And yet, biodiversity survival continues to decline, raising the question of how effectively are protected areas being managed?

UQ’s Professor Marc Hockings is working with various non-government organisations and protection agencies around the world to assess management effectiveness. Their efforts, based on the approach developed by Professor Hockings and the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas, have led to such evaluations becoming a mainstream element of protected area management. Targets for assessment have been set through the Convention on Biological Diversity and assessment systems are being adopted and applied in many countries.

Professor Hockings and colleagues from Oxford University and the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre in Cambridge (UNEP WCMC), have been working to compile and understand the results arising from these many diverse assessment systems. They have developed a common reporting platform for assessing Protected Area Management Effectiveness (PAME) and are linking this information to the World Database on Protected Areas maintained by UNEP-WCMC. The model comprises a nested set of headline indicators into which indicators from any PAME methodology can be grouped and matched; and a process for transforming the diverse data sets into these indicators.

“The assessment process allows PA managers and partners to learn from each other and to raise the standard of their PA management,” explained Professor Hockings.

“This is a particularly successful technique when it’s combined with a concerted effort to apply the findings of the evaluation and to strengthen management to acceptable levels.”

While the study has documented that countries around the world are making considerable progress with PAME assessments, the research has also revealed that the diverse methodologies used for evaluating PAMEs paint a remarkably similar picture of management strengths and weaknesses across the world.

“Nearly half of the PAs in our study sample have major deficiencies, scoring less than 50 percent of the ideal. Another 13 percent show very inadequate management, where basic management activities are deficient,” said Professor Hockings.

“If PAs are to be effective as a conservation strategy in the longer term, these inadequacies must be addressed. With a common tool for evaluating PAME strategies, public organisations like the World Wildlife Fund and the many government agencies investing in PA management can be confident that PA management will stronger and evidence-based in the future.”