Protected areas data from WDPA

Keeping track of protected areas is for any government a complex task. National parks are usually not a problem, but moving down towards areas with protection on a regional or local level things soon get blurred out. For researchers in Tanzania getting their data right is a challenge. This posting is a generalized version of a posting on the www.tzgisug.org webpage early in January.

Ideally the protected araeas should be published by the Tanzanian government. In Tanzania, as in many other countries, the decission to give an area a protected area status is made in parliament. Such decissions are however usually made by through a text describing landscape features, current administrative borders, coordinates, roads and other. Some of these are of a temporary character and as such contribute to the confusion when spatial data sets (shapefiles) are made for later analysis. To my knowledge there is no central repository for protected area data. But please comment on this posting if you know of it. The data provided to WDPA is from several resources and can as such only be considered indicative of the actual areas. In effect the World Database of Protected Areas is the one best source for the protected area data.

In their own words WDPA describe their project this way:

”The World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA) is the most comprehensive global spatial dataset on marine and terrestrial protected areas available.

Protected areas are internationally recognised as major tools in conserving species and ecosystems. Up to date information on protected areas is essential to enable a wide range of conservation and development activities.

Since 1981 UNEP-WCMC, through its Protected Areas Programme, has been compiling this information and making it available to the global community. The WDPA is a joint project of UNEP and IUCN, produced by UNEP-WCMC and the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas working with governments and collaborating NGOs.”

Their idea is a good one. But the maps produced rely on data from a variety of sources. Some sources are good, some are official, and some are downright wrong in their descriptions of protected areas. As you all know there might be many excuses for bad spatial data. Accidental changes, the usual playing around with datums, unclear ownerships leading to false areas and more. We have at least five categories of errors:

  • Areas erroneously listed as protected areas
  • Omitted protected areas
  • Inaccurate borders
  • Correct area but the wrong category
  • Areas without names, or with wrong names

Faced with these challenges one dare ask if it is advisable to work on research based on protected areas data from WDPA.

Do you have any stories about using protected areas data in research in Tanzania? Do you know how to get around the challenge of getting the most up-to-date version of the data? Are the WDPA data good enough? Are there other sources available? Comment on this article below or send us an email and let us know!

You can read more on spatial data on the TZGISUG website:

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