The global community is pushing forward on promises to achieve internationally agreed upon levels of environmental protection, and marine scientists are working diligently to evaluate the efficacy of these actions. Definitions are being refined, levels of protection are being researched, and “on the water” implementation is being evaluated. Marine Conservation Institute is leading this work through its Marine Protection Atlas (MPAtlas.org) project, and our team is parsing the details and reporting on what national-level marine protected area (MPA) efforts mean for actual protection of our oceans.
Not all MPAs are created equal and not all areas reported by governments to the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA) meet the conservation goals set forth by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) definition of an MPA. For this reason, our numbers do not match officially reported WDPA numbers. Scientific consensus is that restricting extractive use provides the greatest protection for marine ecosystems, so the Marine Protection Atlas emphasizes MPAs that include at least some fully protected (no-take) area, and it presents that area as a subset of the greater MPA number. Our recent paper in Biodiversity highlights our best estimate of current MPA coverage.
As climate change and other global impacts increasingly threaten the ocean, places where marine life can thrive are becoming scarce. If the oceans are a weakened immune system because of our rapidly changing climate, then other direct human impacts, such as destructive fishing and mining, can be considered the vector that spreads disease. Most leading marine scientists agree: we need places that are free of direct human impact if we have any hope of our oceans weathering the coming changes. Our Global Ocean Refuge System (GLORES) initiative is aimed at identifying and boosting places with strong protections to maximize desired conservation outcomes. The new GLORES Accelerator program is dedicated to ensuring new MPAs move towards those strong outcomes from the start. They work in concert with the Marine Protection Atlas to ensure real ocean protection measures are encouraged and celebrated on the global stage.
As we evaluate and recognize ocean protection measures worldwide, we are also fighting the Trump administration’s attack on our Marine National Monuments and National Marine Sanctuaries. We’ve joined other environmental groups to raise awareness about his threats to our public waters and lands and oppose his rollbacks to the National Ocean Policy and our shared natural heritage. Now, we need your help to keep up the fight: in honor of World Oceans Month, we’re doubling every donation that we receive to help us resist President Trump’s unprecedented assault on our environment. Together, we can protect our oceans and allow marine wildlife to flourish once again.
Feature Photo: Simple version of the MPAtlas global MPA map