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Calling on Marine Scientists to Support Protecting at least 30% of the Ocean by 2030 (30×30)

By Lance Morgan, President at Marine Conservation Institute


There is growing scientific evidence and support for protecting at least 30% of the planet. The 2019 report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) highlights the dire future of biodiversity on our planet if we do not act decisively now.  Seagrass beds, marshes and mangroves, coral reefs and fish populations continue to decline. Only 5% of the ocean is currently protected[i] in any way; and almost no place in the ocean is untouched by humans. Recognizing this, a coalition of non-profit organizations and marine scientists of many different disciplines have drafted the following letter to urge decision makers the world over to safeguard our ocean.


It is sadly an inescapable fact that the world looked a lot different when this letter was conceived – with a series of key ocean meetings ahead of us in 2020. However, we should still be working on the basis that key decisions will be taken this year – and as such this letter remains important and urgent.

Please consider signing – Sign the Letter


We are at a crucial time for ocean conservation. Key decisions in the near future will set the course for a decade of action which will define the future of the sea. We, the undersigned, call on you to support an ambitious global target through the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Post-2020 Framework, to safeguard at least 30% of the ocean in a network of highly or fully protected, well managed marine protected areas (MPAs) and other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs) by 2030.


Ocean health is vital to all life on Earth, yet is in a state of decline. Human activities are driving significant overfishing[1], the loss of marine biodiversity[2], the destruction of coastal environments, pollution of marine habitats and the warming, acidification, and deoxygenation of the ocean, threatening not only marine life, but the wellbeing of people today and into the future. The current target to protect 10% of the ocean by 2020 (codified in the CBD and Sustainable Development Goals), while a good start, is not sufficient to reverse biodiversity loss or help mitigate the impacts of rapid global change.


Scientific evidence suggests that to secure a healthy, productive, and resilient marine environment, at least 30% of the world’s ocean must be safeguarded in a network of well managed MPAs and OECMs[3]. It has been shown that protected areas that do not allow industrial extraction such as long-line fishing or deep-sea mining are crucial to restore and protect biodiversity.[4],[5],[6]


We are inspired by the progress the world has made on ocean protection over the past ten years. At the same time, we note with concern that a number of countries’ submissions to the World Database of Protected Areas (WDPA)[7], the global database used by the United Nations to measure progress against the 10% goal, do not meet minimum international standards, such as those established by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)[8], which require the prohibition of industrial extractive activity. These commitments provide little to no biological benefits and give a skewed impression of progress against global ocean protection targets. By some estimates, a third of the area identified as protected in the WDPA does not meet minimum international standards for MPAs. Global conservation efforts are being undermined by accrediting protected areas that do not support the recovery of the ocean. The levels of protection for biodiversity within these sites must quickly be enhanced to render them effective.


Over the coming months and years, it is critical that existing and new ecologically representative protected areas cover at least 30% of the ocean, meet the IUCN’s standards for protected areas[9], and are effectively managed[10]. A high level of protection is necessary for a high level of benefit. This is the only way to secure a sustainable and abundant ocean and to build resilience against emerging threats such as climate change. Marine life and the indigenous people and local communities that depend on the ocean for their food and livelihoods rely on leaders like you to help the world deliver on ambitious ocean protection targets.


We call on you to support a global call to protect and conserve at least 30% of the ocean and to preserve the integrity of the term “marine protected area”. Weakening this standard will not get us to our goal of protecting global ocean health, which is vital to all the people of this world.


Sign the Letter


[1] FAO report, “State of the Worlds’ Fisheries and Aquaculture” (2018)

[2] IPBES report, “Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services” (2019)

[3] Bethan C. O’Leary et al., “Effective Coverage Targets for Ocean Protection,” Conservation Letters 9, no. 6 (2016): 398-404

[4] Graham J. Edgar et al., “Global Conservation Outcomes Depend on Marine Protected Areas with Five Key Features,” Nature 506, no. 7487 (2014): 216-20

[5] Sarah E. Lester et al., “Biological Effects Within No-Take Marine Reserves: A Global Synthesis,” Marine Ecology Progress Series 384 (2009): 33-46

[6] Enric Sala et al “Assessing real progress towards effective ocean protection”, Marine Policy Volume 91 (2018): Pages 11-13

[7] World Database of Protected Areas

[8] International Union for Conservation of Nature and World Commission on Protected Areas, “Guidelines for applying the IUCN protected area management categories to marine protected areas” (2019)

[9] International Union for Conservation of Nature and World Commission on Protected Areas, “Applying IUCN’s Global Conservation Standards to Marine Protected Areas (MPA)” (2018)

[10] David Gill et al “Capacity shortfalls hinder the performance of marine protected areas globally” Nature. 30;543(7647) (2017). 665-669

[i] Marine Protection Atlas,, Marine Conservation Institute.