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The Evolution of the Marine Protection Atlas and a New Era of Science-Based Assessments

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The Evolution of MPAtlas

Momentum to protect the global ocean in marine protected areas (MPAs) is greater than it has ever been. However, progress has been hindered for a variety of reasons, including confusion about what ‘protection’ means and the likely conservation outcomes of a particular type of MPA. An accurate accounting of how much of the ocean is protected—and protected well—is essential for steering conversations and setting global targets for marine conservation if we are to achieve 30% protection of the ocean by 2030.

Since 2012, the Marine Protection Atlas (MPAtlas), an initiative of Marine Conservation Institute, has provided a nuanced perspective on global marine protection. At our start, MPAtlas endeavored to verify, through independent research and partnerships with other non-governmental organizations, the self-reported no-take data provided by countries to the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA). Our team identified, confirmed, and provided more detailed information on the subset of self-reported no-take MPAs that were implemented ‘on-the-water’. Our efforts resulted in global marine protection numbers that told a clearer story about how many marine protected areas are providing true biodiversity conservation.

Our work to clarify MPA reporting became the impetus for efforts within the marine conservation community to create a scientifically supported framework to categorize, track and evaluate MPAs. The Science publication of The MPA Guide: A Framework to Achieve Global Goals for the Ocean is the culmination of this multi-year, multi-national collaborative work. It builds upon the previously developed Regulation-Based Classification System (RBCS).

The MPA Guide is intended to fill a gap in existing MPA classification and assessment tools. In terms of global consistency with terminology and requiring a moderate level of effort to complete, The MPA Guide can help determine how likely MPAs are to deliver the desired conservation outcomes.

As a founding partner of and key collaborator in The MPA Guide initiative, we celebrated its launch in 2021; but creating The MPA Guide framework was only the beginning. Over the past few years, the MPAtlas team and key collaborators have applied the framework to MPAs across around the world to develop a clearer picture of global marine protection. We recently led a study establishing a true baseline for global “30x30” targets - Publication: Ocean Protection Quality is Lagging Behind Quantity. MPAtlas has transitioned the focus of its database from verification of WDPA data to housing MPA Guide assessments and associated data. MPAtlas now includes a new interactive web map interface that allows users to explore MPAs assessed with The MPA Guide framework using a series of filters and views. Each assessed MPA has a score card that describes its stage of establishment and level of protection, as well as more details about the components that contributed to these assessments.

The MPAtlas dataset does not contain boundaries for all global MPAs, only those assessed against MPA quality frameworks. Working with colleagues and partners to apply The MPA Guide framework to add more MPAs from around the world, we anticipate regularly releasing more MPA Guide assessments, supporting each data release with documentation and transparency about how framework was applied. We look forward to sharing our new protected area assessments and numbers as we pioneer the application of this powerful MPA classification tool and work to better understand the likely conservation outcomes of our current marine protections.

If you are interested in partnering with our MPAtlas team and contributing MPA information to our database, please click here to learn where to begin - MPA Guide Assessments.

What is The MPA Guide?

The MPA Guide is a groundbreaking science-driven, policy-relevant framework to categorize marine protected areas and link their outcomes for nature and people. The MPA Guide organizes MPAs along two axes: Stage of Establishment and Level of Protection. The Stage of Establishment specifies an MPA’s status—in other words, whether it exists only on paper or is in operation and actively protecting biodiversity—while the Level of Protection clarifies the degree to which biodiversity and ecosystems within an MPA are protected from extractive or destructive activities. The MPA Guide provides the science, evidence and framework to clarify which MPAs will be able to deliver effective protection. Only when an MPA is enforced on the water can it generate conservation benefits, and the strength of conservation outcomes correlates with the extent to which extractive or destructive activities are reduced.

Learn more about The MPA Guide.

To work with the MPAtlas team and get started with The MPA Guide framework CLICK HERE.

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