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Denmark’s Marine Protected Areas Assessed According to IUCN’s International Definition

Foto: Anette Petersen

A new report shows that approx. 40% of 332 designated Danish marine protected areas (MPAs) do not meet international criteria for nature conservation.

According to UN Sustainable Development Goal 14, a minimum of 10% of coastal and marine areas must be protected. This report documents that Denmark currently has 4.8% marine protected areas and is therefore only halfway.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the world’s largest nature conservation organisation, has developed guidelines for the assessment of protected areas. These guidelines constitute the definition used by the UN in compiling data on protected areas globally. Members of IUCN expert commissions have reviewed the Danish marine protected areas (MPA) to assess whether they meet the IUCN definition of a protected area.

A total of 332 MPAs have been identified in Denmark, all of which have been assessed. The areas are divided into different types of protection, including protected areas, game reserves, Natura 2000 sites as well as designations from UNESCO and the OSPAR, HELCOM and Ramsar Conventions. Many of these protected areas overlap in whole or in part with each other.

The result of the assessment shows that 198 of the 332 MPAs meet the IUCN definition of a protected area. This corresponds to 59.6% of the areas. 134 areas do not meet the IUCN definition, which can be due to many factors, e.g. if the seabed has not been adequately protected from bottom trawling, or if the management of specific species or habitats is considered inadequate.

The overall assessment shows that a total of 508,630 ha of marine area meet the IUCN definition. This corresponds to 4.8% of Denmark’s total marine area being protected in accordance with the IUCN definition.

According to Sustainable Development Goal 14, Life Below Water, all Member States are committed to protecting and ensuring sustainable use of the world’s oceans and their resources. This is specified in several sub-targets, where sub-target 14.5 requires that at least 10% of coastal and marine areas must be protected. The assessment of the MPAs in this project shows that Denmark with 4.8% is approx. halfway in meeting SDG 14.5.

Percentage of marine area designated nature protection (orange) and percentage fulfilling the IUCN definition of a protected area (blue). Shown for 12 different waters and Denmark as a total (HELE DANMARK).

The project has been carried out by experts from Parks’nTrails, NaturTanken and GEON on behalf of IUCN SSC Conservation Planning Specialist Group Europe at Copenhagen Zoo. The experts are members of IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) and IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management (CEM).

The project is supported by the VELUX Foundation.

The full report can be downloaded here (in Danish with an English summary).



At, all 332 marine protected areas (MPAs) can be seen on a clickable map of Denmark and assessment forms for each MPA with detailed information on meeting the IUCN definition can be downloaded.



Geographical distribution of the marine protected areas (MPAs) that have been assessed to fulfil (green) or not fulfil (orange) the IUCN definition for protected areas. Some areas are so small that they cannot be seen on the map.

Photos from the presentation at Copenhagen Zoo, 2 September 2020

Bo Normander ved hav-møde
Jan Woollhead ved hav-møde
Ann-Katrine Garn ved hav-møde

Top from left is Bengt Holst, Zoo; Bo Normander, NaturTanken; Jan Woollhead, Parks’n Trails and Ann-Katrine Garn, Zoo.

Photos: Peter Frandsen (meeting at Zoo) and Anette Petersen (boat at sea, top).