Developing a Protection Level Index
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The number of designated Protected Areas (PAs) worldwide has been increasing fast over the past decades and currently 15.1% of the land and 7.9% of the ocean’s surface are under protection. However, the mere designation of a PA does not guarantee any degree of protection. Where the IUCN Categorizing system classifies PAs solely based on the management strategy on paper, the actual effects of this management remain undetermined. Over the past years, thousands of PA effectiveness methodologies have been developed and applied to PAs from all over the world. However, the majority of the existing assessments are not entirely fit for a quick and easy assessment of the actual quality of the protection in place. Therefore, we propose a new method that assesses the effects of the PA management and thereby reflects the actual degree of protection within the borders of a PA. We present the Protection Level Index (PLI), an index (ranging from 0 to 1) that is based on the scores for 12 equally weighted managerial, socio-economic and ecological sub-indices that are based on both the results from a questionnaire and an analysis of the spatial characteristics of the PA in a GIS. One of the great advantages of PLI is that it omits pre-defining universal optimal conditions and instead allows the PA manager(s) to put numerical quantifications into context. PLI has been tested for 7 European PAs covering a wide range of environmental regimes. The results indicate that some the sub-indices are closely related to each other and that despite the dissimilarities between the 7 PAs, they all have a similar final PLI score in the midrange around 0.63. This emphasizes the unbiased character of PLI, which makes it an ideal protected area management effectiveness method that can be applied to any PA worldwide.