Research Article 007. Cook, C. N., et al. "Quantifying the extent of protected area downgrading, downsizing and degazettement in Australia." Conservation Biology (2017)

Carly N. Cook, Rebecca S. Valkan, Michael B. Mascia, Melodie McGeoch

The use of total area protected as the predominant indicator of progress in building protected areas (PAs) is receiving growing criticism. Documenting the full dynamics of a PA network, both in terms of the gains and losses in protection, provides a much more informative approach to tracking progress. To this end, there has been growing emphasis on documenting examples of PADDD: Protected Area Downgrading, Downsizing and Degazettement. Studies of PADDD events generally fail to place these losses in the context of gains in protection, omitting important elements of PA network dynamics. To address this limitation, we used a spatially explicit approach to comprehensively identify every parcel of land added to and excised from a PA network and those areas that had their level of protection changed over the 17 year period (1997-2014). Demonstrating this approach for Australian terrestrial PAs, we conducted the first assessment of the dynamics of a PA network in a developed country and reveal a far more dynamic network than any previously documented. Against a background of enormous growth in area protected, we identified more than 1,500 PADDD events affecting over one third of the network, largely the result of widespread downgrading of protections. A systematic, spatially explicit approach, such as we use here, can provide a mechanism for robust tracking of trends in the world's PAs, through the World Database on Protected Areas. However, this will require greater transparency and improved data standards for reporting change.