Quantifying the extent of protected-area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement in Australia Academic Article uri icon


  • The use of total area protected as the predominant indicator of progress in building protected area (PA) networks is receiving growing criticism. Documenting the full dynamics of PA networks, both in terms of the gains and losses in protection, provides a much more informative approach to tracking progress. To this end, documentation of PA downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement (PADDD) has increased. Studies of PADDD events generally fail to place these losses in the context of gains in protection; therefore, they omit important elements of PA network dynamics. To address this limitation, we used a spatially explicit approach to identify every parcel of land added to and excised from the Australian terrestrial PA network and PAs that had their level of protection changed over 17 years (1997-2014). By quantifying changes in the spatial configuration of the PA network with time-series data (spatial layers for nine separate time steps), ours is the first assessment of the dynamics (increases and decreases in area and level of protection) of a PA network and the first comprehensive assessment of PADDD in a developed country. We found that the Australian network was highly dynamic; there were 5233 changes in area or level of protection over 17 years. Against a background of enormous increases in area protected, we identified over 1500 PADDD events, which affected over one-third of the network, which were largely the result of widespread downgrading of protection. We believe our approach provides a mechanism for robust tracking of trends in the world's PAs through the use of data from the World Database on Protected Areas. However, this will require greater transparency and improved data standards in reporting changes to PAs.

publication date

  • 2017