United Nations Environment Programme
environment for development Search 
News Centre
 Home News Centre
 Media Contacts
 Press Releases
 In Focus
 RSS / Podcasts

 Printable Version

World's National Parks and Protected Areas Go On-Line

Google Earth Package Adds New and Novel 21st Century Features 

Barcelona, 6 October 2008 - A new online database that will allow scientists to arm chair environmentalists monitor the world’s national parks and protected areas was launched today at the 5th World Conservation Congress in Barcelona.

The new product, a partnership between the United Nations Environment Programme’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) and IUCN, also allows users to zoom in, fly over and explore over 100,000 sites via Google Earth.

The feature may prove as attractive to tourists, planning a visit to a protected area, as it will to researchers studying the globe’s protected land and marine estate.

Because of some of the new features in this system, the University of Maryland was able to develop a new feature that gives early warning of forest fires via e-mail. This should assist rangers to rapidly mobilize fire fighting operations reducing the risk of serious damage to one of these economically important nature-based assets.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director said: “The information in this new system is at the heart of every decision we make at the nation, regional and global level for conservation”.

“Creating and maintaining national parks and protected areas is one of the most important commitments that nations make towards protecting endangered species, habitats, landscapes and local livelihoods,” he said.

“The information is used as an indicator in the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, under the heading of “Ensuring Environmental Sustainability”, because it is recognized that national parks and protected areas protect more than just nature, they can safeguard against poverty and they are a lasting legacy of human endeavour,” said Mr Steiner.

“Improved information on protected areas is essential for all involved in protected areas – from on ground park managers to scientists. IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas  welcomes the major improvements in the World Database on Protected Areas as a crucial planning and management tool for protected areas” says Nik Lopoukhine, Chair of WCPA.

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

“At UNEP’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre we are trying to remain in the vanguard of making conservation information readily available to the world” says Jon Hutton the UNEP-WCMC Director.

“We have a long history of compiling information on the state of the world’s biodiversity, and are currently the secretariat of the ‘Conservation Commons’, an initiative to make conservation information accessible and more open to the world. This new project of making the World Database on Protected Areas more open and accessible is a concrete example of taking the principles of the Conservation Commons and making them real,” he added.

Speaking as one of the Proteus Partners, a coalition of oil, gas, mineral and mining and information technology companies who have contributed more than 2 million dollars into this initiative, Liz Rogers from the energy company BP, made it clear how beneficial this information is to the work they are doing.

“Companies that have the potential to impact nature should invest in information that will ensure they can minimise their impact on nature and thereby lower their risk profile,” Dr. Rogers said, “linking the information systems of the oil companies with those of conservation organisations so that we can avoid or minimise damage to protected areas and sensitive environments makes sense not only from an ethical perspective, but also from an economic one,” she said.

Charles Besançon, the Head of the Protected Areas Programme at UNEP-WCMC sums it up like this: “A fundamental challenge for everyone involved with conservation is access to information. From the rangers working on the ground, to the planning of new projects by the biggest corporations and environmental bodies, critical information made more accessible allows us to be much more proactive instead of reactive as we face the environmental challenges ahead”.

He said some of the features of special interest to park rangers in the Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS) e-mail warning system were possible because of the high quality and the availability of national parks and protected areas data. The FIRMS system is a partnership led by the University of Maryland and includes NASA, the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization and Conservation International.

“This is really just the tip of the iceberg about the types of monitoring that are possible  with these technologies that allow the linking of real-time satellite data with protected areas boundaries,” said Mr Besancon.

For More Information Please Contact

Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson/Head of Media, on Mobile when traveling +41 79 596 57 37or E-mail:nick.nuttall@unep.org


Charles Besançon, The United Nations Environment Programme, World Conservation Monitoring Centre, charles.besancon@unep-wcmc.org mobile: +44 7920 511 921




Further Resources

UNEP - World Conservation Monitoring Centre

World Database on Protected Areas

International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

World Commission on Protected Areas


Proteus Partnership

Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS)


Follow Us

Keep up to date with UNEP events on Facebook, Twitter and You Tube.

Twitter Facebook You Tube

UNEP on Facebook