A protected area, as defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), is “an area of land and/or sea especially dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity and of natural and associated cultural resources, managed through legal or other effective means”.
The IUCN “protected areas” are further broken down into six management categories:
Strict Nature Reserve: protected area managed mainly for science
Definition: Area of land and/or sea possessing some outstanding or representative ecosystems, geological or physiological features and/or species, available primarily for scientific research and/or environmental monitoring.
Wilderness Area: protected area managed mainly for wilderness protection
Definition: Large area of unmodified or slightly modified land, and/or sea, retaining its natural character and influence, without permanent or significant habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural condition.
National Park: protected area managed mainly for ecosystem protection and recreation
Definition: Natural area of land and/or sea, designated to (a) protect the ecological integrity of one or more ecosystems for present and future generations, (b) exclude exploitation or occupation inimical to the purposes of designation of the area and (c) provide a foundation for spiritual, scientific, educational, recreational and visitor opportunities, all of which must be environmentally and culturally compatible.
Natural Monument: protected area managed mainly for conservation of specific natural features
Definition: Area containing one, or more, specific natural or natural/cultural feature which is of outstanding or unique value because of its inherent rarity, representative or aesthetic qualities or cultural significance.
Habitat/Species Management Area: protected area managed mainly for conservation through management intervention
Definition: Area of land and/or sea subject to active intervention for management purposes so as to ensure the maintenance of habitats and/or to meet the requirements of specific species.
Protected Landscape/Seascape: protected area managed mainly for landscape/seascape conservation and recreation
Definition: Area of land, with coast and sea as appropriate, where the interaction of people and nature over time has produced an area of distinct character with significant aesthetic, ecological and/or cultural value, and often with high biological diversity. Safeguarding the integrity of this traditional interaction is vital to the protection, maintenance and evolution of such an area.
Managed Resource Protected Area: protected area managed mainly for the sustainable use of natural ecosystems
Definition: Area containing predominantly unmodified natural systems, managed to ensure long term protection and maintenance of biological diversity, while providing at the same time a sustainable flow of natural products and services to meet community needs.
For more information view the Guidelines for Protected Areas Management Categories.