Skip to content

Thursday, September 9, 2021, 2:00 pm Eastern (US)



Lance Morgan,, 707-217-8242 (cell)

Beth Pike,, 206-686-6337


Science Releases a Groundbreaking Framework to Guide Better Decisions about Ocean Protection

[Glen Ellen, CA]. A peer-reviewed study, The MPA Guide: A Framework to Achieve Global Goals for the Ocean, published in Science today provides a novel scientific framework to consistently understand, plan, establish, evaluate and monitor ocean protection in marine protected areas (MPAs). The paper provides a common global scientific language for evaluating MPAs for conservation effectiveness, and could enable faster, better progress on global ocean conservation using MPAs. Today, highly and strongly protected, implemented MPAs, the only MPAs producing demonstrable conservation benefits, account for 2.7% of the world’s oceans, according to the Marine Protection Atlas (MPAtlas). International goals for meaningful ocean protection are likely to be set at 30% coverage by 2030. That is a large gap to be filled in the next decade.

At the intellectual heart of The MPA Guide lie two concepts that have been embedded in Marine Conservation Institute’s MPA assessment work for years: 1) while MPAs can be designated with varying levels of protection from human impacts, only high levels of protection have been proven to yield real and lasting conservation benefits; and 2) rules about fishing and resource extraction matter, but only if they are actually implemented, monitored and enforced. Therefore, the stage of implementation of the MPA matters, too, i.e., whether the area has progressed from designation to being actively managed. Since 2012 the Marine Protection Atlas, also called the MPAtlas, has been assessing the extent of marine protection across the world with these two primary criteria in mind.

Dr. Lance Morgan, President of Marine Conservation Institute, said, “It is incredibly gratifying to see years of scientific work culminate in this comprehensive framework for assessing the quality and likely conservation value of MPAs. For nearly a decade, we have been working to implement these concepts in our Marine Protection Atlas database. This publication validates our efforts.” He continued, “We have created a new data portal for partners around the world to contribute their MPA Guide assessments to the Atlas database.”

Beth Pike, Strategic Manager of the Marine Protection Atlas, said, “Today we introduce our new MPAtlas platform at containing some MPA assessments using the new MPA Guide. We will release additional assessments using the MPA Guide throughout the fall, including the largest MPAs in the US, and later this year or next we will begin to do the same for the largest global MPAs.”

Some will ask why the release of this guide to analyze and categorize marine protected areas is so important. The answer is that there are nearly 18,000 MPAs reported to the World Database of Protected Areas (WDPA), but very few of these will achieve the full potential of their desired conservation outcomes due to weak regulations, lack of enforcement or monitoring, or poor alignment of jurisdiction with threats. Informed by experts and practitioners and designed for use in the real world, The MPA Guide provides a systematic way to organize types of MPAs and connect these different types with the outcomes they are expected to achieve. The new framework gives managers and policy-makers around the world a clear language and a consistent approach to understanding the current state of marine protection and setting conservation goals for the near future.

Authored by 42 marine and social scientists from 38 institutions across six continents, The MPA Guide provides an evidence-based overview of where we stand on ocean protection. This framework will disambiguate reporting on the extent of current marine protection and will focus the discussion around global targets with regard to both quantity and also the necessary quality of the protection. We cannot achieve international goals for ocean conservation at the current pace and with the current quality of most MPAs designated around the world. We must speed up designations and improve the quality of MPAs to make a real difference.

We want to thank our partners in this multi-year, multi-continent effort to identify the factors and criteria that make for effective marine protected areas: Oregon State University, the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre, the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas and National Geographic. A special thanks is due to the funders of our Marine Protection Atlas over the years. The Waitt Foundation, Oceans5, The Winslow Foundation and the David & Lucile Packard Foundation have generously supported our work to gather, assess, and report on MPAs around the world.


About Marine Conservation Institute

Marine Conservation Institute, founded in 1996, works in the U.S. and globally to seek strong protection for at least 30% of the ocean by 2030—for us and future generations. Our focus on protecting the ocean’s most important places follows several lines of work: identifying and advocating for strong marine protected areas; improving laws and other tools to better conserve marine biodiversity; catalyzing effective conservation by recognizing and elevating the best marine protected areas as Blue Parks and Blue Sparks; and accurately reporting on conservation efforts with our Marine Protection Atlas (