Please have some patience with me as I am not a GIS professional at all, I am merely trying to work with some of the file formats. Let me first explain what I am trying to accomplish:

The WDPA (World Database of Protected Areas) is, as the name says, an attempt to map all protected areas in the world, with an emphasis on biodiversity. Their work can be seen here:


You can browse all the areas right there on the site, search for them, etc. In addition, they have the following download options of the entire set (right below the search box):

  • CSV
  • KML
  • SHP
  • ESRI Web Service

This interests me greatly, since I want to integrate these protected areas into my own website, in the following ways:

  • Using Google maps, per country (so not all at once) show the polygons as overlay on the current Google Maps canvas (I have to stick with Google Maps here, due to other functionality)
  • Clicking on an area should show its metadata
  • Stretch goal: As my website is about photography, it would be incredible if a geotagged photo could automatically be associated with the protected area in which it was taken

To accomplish the above, I figure I need the following:

  • I need all textual metadata of all areas on the map in a way so that I can convert it into a format that is suitable for MySQL, the internal database I use. For example, each protected area has a unique ID and a country code, I need that data.
  • I need the shape data per protected area (or per country?). This is where I lack knowledge. Either way it needs to be in such a format so that it can be shown on Google Maps, and I need to know to which protected area (or country) it belongs

Some things I tried:

The first 3 download options provided by WDPA all seem the same, not sure if that is a bug on the site or not. I had no idea how to open them but eventually figured out I need ArcGIS and installed a trial version. I still don't know how to export anything in the format I desire though.

The 4th option seems most promising: http://ec2-54-204-216-109.compute-1.amazonaws.com:6080/arcgis/rest/services/wdpa/wdpa/MapServer

There the entire set is offered via different web services. I tried opening the layer in Google Earth, but it keeps crashing on me, and I read you can't export layers from Google Earth? The other options are not familiar to me but after trying them I see no easy way to get the data I want in the way I want it.

I'm looking for your guidance in this question. This data set is a treasure and I am very excited to try to bring it into my own site, but I'm failing miserably at the first step.

1 Answer 1


If you download the shapefile you will have what is necessasry to get started. The full file (all of the world) is around 2.9GB. The each feature (protected area) has attribute information about name, protected area type (ICUN standard), country code and more.

From here on you can do things two ways:

  1. Use a desktop tool to produce a kml-file which you place on your server
  2. Go the whole way uploading the file to a database and access it from a server based map server

From what I gather the answer you are lookin for is this:

  1. Download the shapefile
  2. Open it in QGIS. QGIS is an open source tool which will allow you to do most spatial operations. It is definetively an alternative to ArcGIS if you are not intent on spending money on this project.
  3. Filter it according to your needs
  4. Add attributes like links to images or lists of images
  5. Export the result to KML-file.
  6. a) Place the KML-file on your server and point to it from your website or b) upload it to google maps and embed one of those maps on a web page on your server.

If you at some stage want to make things more complicated you move into MySQL territory. Upload the file using GDAL. FME is at commercial tool which will allow you to input a shapefile to MySQL. If you used PostGIS you could use the SPIT plugin which allows you to upload directly from QGIS.

Once your data is in MySQL you can add a map service using Geoserver, mapserver or others topresent the spatial data. Geoserver will provide data in a lot of formats suitable for inclusion in other systems. KML is one of the outputs.

You can set up your kmz request by following the relevant guidelines. Geoserver will allow filtering using attributes in the data set.

With this I hope we have given you a basic way forward as well as information about how to move to the next level.

  • 1
    Thank you so much. I'm having trouble carrying out the GDAL part as the instructions there are a bit confusing, but I believe I can get this part to work slightly differently: I'm now 'practicing' on a smaller file (KML) and trying to parse it into MySQL using PHP. I can probably manage this. The part I don't understand is about the GeoServer. Why do I need one if I could load individual countries' KML files onto Google Maps, like this: developers.google.com/maps/tutorials/kml I'm hoping to avoid additional infrastructure.
    – Fer
    Mar 17, 2015 at 18:32
  • @ferdy I have given the answer some more detail and believe the first (simplest) answer is what you are looking for. When you are happy with the answer or other alternative answers you should indicate this by voting the relevant answer up.
    – ragnvald
    Mar 17, 2015 at 19:24
  • Thank you, that is a great enrichment of your initial answer. I think I need both of your solutions actually: I need the protected area meta data in MySQL, yet the actual coordinates of those parks in KML, probably per country. You have given me many tips to move this forward, so thanks once again!
    – Fer
    Mar 18, 2015 at 7:42

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