Protected areas or natural parks are locations which receive protection because of their recognised natural, ecological and/or cultural values. There are several kinds of protected areas, which vary by level of protection depending on the enabling laws of each country or the regulations of the international organisations involved. The term "protected area" also includes Marine Protected Areas, the boundaries of which will include some area of ocean. There are over 161,000 protected areas in the world (as of October 2010) with more added daily, representing between 10 and 15 percent of the world's land surface area. By contrast, only 1.17% of the world's oceans is included in the world's ~6,800 Marine Protected Areas.
Protected areas are essential for biodiversity conservation. They are the cornerstones of virtually all national and international conservation strategies. They are areas set aside to maintain functioning natural ecosystems, to act as refuges for species and to maintain ecological processes that cannot survive in most intensely managed landscapes and seascapes. Protected areas act as benchmarks against which we understand human interactions with the natural world. Today they are often the only hope we have of stopping many threatened or endangered species from becoming extinct.