10 Countries and Territories With the Most Protected Land

Lush green valley flanked by mountains in Bhutan
Almost half the total land area of Bhutan is protected. . torstenvelden / Getty Images

Protected areas do wonders for the environment: They help clean the air and water, sequester greenhouse gases, maintain beautiful landscapes for the enjoyment of people, and provide a haven for plants and animals in an era when the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List shows more than 37,000 species are threatened with extinction. Some countries do land conservation better than others, though. Certain small, remote countries and territories around the world contain more than 50% protected land; the U.S., in comparison, protects about 13%.

The World Database on Protected Areas, a joint project of the IUCN and United Nations Environment Programme, is "the most comprehensive global database on terrestrial and marine protected areas," available for public viewing via the virtual interface Protected Planet.

According to the database, these are the 10 countries and territories with the most protected land.

1
of 10

Seychelles

Seychellois rocks and the crystal sea in La Digue
Sergio Canobbio / Getty Images

Beloved for its stunning beaches, coral reefs, and nature reserves, the 115-island East African archipelago of Seychelles has 51 protected areas, occupying an unprecedented 61.52% of the total land area and 32.82% of the marine area. That's more protected area (by percentage) than any other country or territory in the world. Still, the amount of protected land alone covers a space of only about 185 square miles, which is just over half the size of New York City.

Seychelles is home to four Ramsar Sites ("Wetlands of International Importance") and two UNESCO World Heritage sites, Aldabra Atoll, whose coral islands serve as a refuge for some 152,000 giant tortoises, and the Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve, covered in palm forest.

2
of 10

New Caledonia

Aerial view of New Caledonia island surrounded by blue water
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The French overseas territory of New Caledonia comprises dozens of little islands 750 miles off the coast of eastern Australia, altogether totaling a land area of about 7,000 square miles. An impressive 59.66% of the land and 96.26% of the islands' marine area is protected.

The IUCN reports that New Caledonia alone has nearly as many species of indigenous flora as the entire continent of Europe (3,261). Its lagoons, coral reefs, and "associated ecosystems" have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. The collectivity squeezes 30 nature reserves, eight national parks, seven forest reserves, and 14 botanical reserves into an area smaller than the state of New Jersey. It contains a total of 115 protected areas.

3
of 10

Venezuela

Sprawling, mountainous Amazon forest in Venezuela
Juan Silva / Getty Images

Venezuela has a reported 290 protected areas that make up 56.88% of its land area and 4.35% of its marine area. The South American nation is a "megadiverse" country, home to about 14% of the world's bird species, 10% of plants, and 7% of mammals. It has 43 national parks, 37 natural monuments, 14 forest reserves, and a number of wildlife refuges, national hydraulic reserves, and "protective zones." A recent Nature Conservancy report showed that protecting its lands has been quite beneficial for Venezuela's economy as well. The hydropower generated from protected areas, for instance, saves the country $12.5 billion in electricity costs per year.

The extensive rainforests play an integral role in sequestering greenhouse gases as well. There are about 50 million acres of protected forest throughout the country, which are believed to "save global climate change damage costs of up to $28 billion," the report says.

4
of 10

Luxembourg

Hamlet next to a river, surrounded by rolling green hills
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The landlocked European country of Luxembourg is split into an urbanized southern region and the remote hills of the Oesling in the north. It's one of the smallest countries in the world, so even though 51.21% of it is protected, the total area of protected land is only 828 square miles. Nonetheless, Luxembourg has 200 protected areas, including 65 sites designated by Natura 2000 (a network of protected areas in the European Union), three nature parks, and two Ramsar-recognized wetlands. The country contains 48 sites protected by the European Union's Habitats Directive and an additional 18 special protection areas under its Birds Directive.

5
of 10

Bhutan

Taktsang monastery perched on a steep cliff edge in Bhutan
Suzanne Stroeer / Getty Images

Despite having only 22 protected areas—including nine biological corridors, five national parks, four wildlife sanctuaries, and one nature reserve—49.67% of Bhutan (or about 12,000 square miles) is protected. The country is known for its position in the Himalayan altitudinal region. Those steep mountains descend into deep valleys that drain into the Indian plains.

Three of Bhutan's wetlands—Gangtey-Phobji, Khotokha, and Bumdeling—are designated Ramsar Wetlands of International Importance. They create a range of vital ecosystems, such as lakes, rivers, streams, glaciers, marshes, peat bogs, and fens.

6
of 10

Brunei Darussalam

White and gold mosque surrounded by water in Brunei
holgs / Getty Images

Brunei Darussalam is a Southeast Asian equatorial country made up of two unconnected parts on the northern coast of Borneo. It contains 56 protected areas (47 of them forest reserves), covering 46.87% of the total land area. Much of it lies within the Borneo lowland rain forests ecoregion, containing the richest rain forests in the world. The island of Borneo is home to 10,000 to 15,000 species of flowering plants and another 3,000 tree species—making it richer than even the whole continent of Africa, which is 40 times larger.

7
of 10

Turks and Caicos Islands

Turks and Caicos beach and bright-blue harbor
Matt Dutile / Getty Images

A popular destination for a particularly indulgent set of vacationers, the tropical archipelago nation of Turks and Caicos is synonymous with turquoise water and white-sand beaches. The country comprises 40 different islands and keys, and 44.37% of its total land area is protected by 34 conservation sites. In these scattered safe havens—including 11 national parks and 11 nature reserves—tourist activities like shell collecting and fishing are prohibited. One of the most famous protected area in Turks and Caicos is Princess Alexandra National Park, a 6,500-acre coastal park that contains the beautiful Grace Bay Beach.

8
of 10

Hong Kong

Lush park and pond with Hong Kong skyline in background
Andrea Pistolesi / Getty Images

For a territory as metropolitan as Hong Kong, it could come as a surprise that 41.88% of land area is protected by 104 conservation sites. In reality, the bustling city is surrounded by and sprinkled with green space, including 23 country parks and 56 "Sites of Special Scientific Interest." These SSSIs are designated by Hong Kong's Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department to protect plant life, wildlife, and important geographic features.

9
of 10

Greenland

Mountains and valley with fall colors in South Greenland
Posnov / Getty Images

The 41.11% of total land area that's protected in Greenland spans a mind-boggling 550,000-plus square miles. That's about the land area of Alaska. About 80% of the world's largest island is blanketed by a vast ice sheet that preserves historically significant geological features, like the oldest rocks on Earth (3.8 billion years old).

There are a total of 26 protected areas in Greenland, including 11 nature reserves, one national park, and 14 international designations. UNESCO has named one World Heritage site, the Ilulissat Icefjord, and one Biosphere Reserve, North-East Greenland. Additionally, the country has 12 Ramsar-recognized wetlands.

10
of 10

Slovenia

Church-topped island against mountains in Bled, Slovenia
Paul-Oliver Neumann / EyeEm / Getty Images

More than half of this Central European country is located within "ecologically important areas," so it makes sense that 40.36% of its land would receive federal protection. Natura 2000 has designated 355 sites in Slovenia, known for its mountains, lakes, dense and sprawling forests, gorges, and cave systems.

Despite having a total of 2,270 protected areas, the country has only one national park: Triglav, which covers 4% of Slovenia's territory. The rest are categorized as natural monuments (1,155), nature reserves (61), landscape parks (43), or otherwise. The country has two natural UNESCO World Heritage sites: Škocjan Caves and the Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe.