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Working to Ensure Effective Marine Conservation at the 6th International Marine Conservation Congress

Science advances and good ideas spread in the scientific community when members get together at conferences. Marine Conservation Institute’s team of scientists recently attended , virtually that is, the 6th International Marine Conservation Congress (IMCC6). They played a very busy role co-hosting a two-day workshop, organizing a symposium viewed by over 100 people and giving three talks about our ongoing work to accelerate ocean protection. It was an incredibly productive, engaging, and informative two-week event, and we are grateful for the opportunity to share our work with other passionate marine biologists and conservationists.

Over the weekend of August 15 & 16, with our colleagues at Oregon State University, we co-hosted a two-day workshop that introduced 25 marine conservation practitioners from more than 15 countries to the newly developed MPA Guide classification system. This project has been in the works for years and involved collaboration with many groups and individuals from around the world. The purpose of the MPA Guide is to standardize and support the use of common terms when describing marine protected areas, or MPAs. MPA is very broad term that has come to include every flavor and type of marine protection within set spatial bounds. However, not all MPAs produce the same conservation benefits for ocean ecosystems. Instead, MPAs range in effectiveness (i.e., positive conservation outcomes) from worthless to very worthwhile depending on the stage of establishment (e.g., an announcement of creation versus designated and well managed) and the strength of regulatory regimes. It is important to make these distinctions clear when discussing and measuring marine protection. The peer-reviewed paper created from this process is due to be published this fall, and we look forward to incorporating these classification terms into our future reporting of marine protection.

During the second week of the conference, I gave a talk on the new features and improvements that we are currently adding to the Marine Protection Atlas (www.MPAtlas) that will create a more useful and accurate account of global marine protection. These improvements include reporting global and country by country marine protection by the same categories utilized in the MPA Guide. The symposium in which I presented was hosted by Oregon State University and invited early adopters of the MPA Guide classification system to share their experiences in using it.

Credit: Clinton Bauder

The next day, the Marine Conservation Institute team brought together our colleagues and partners to discuss different MPA classification tools and how they complement and coordinate with each other. We started with the team that collects and vets the original data submitted to the World Database on Protected Areas, or the WDPA. This small team does the heavy lifting of collecting data submitted from all the countries in the world on their terrestrial and marine protected areas, conducting quality control and making the data easily accessible to the public. Next, our colleagues led by the Oceano Azul Foundation presented on their Regulations-based Classification System (RBCS), which sorts MPAs based on the strength of their regulations, including fishing gear impacts, aquaculture and bottom exploitation, and recreational access. RBCS scores each different use zone in an MPA, if there are multiple zones, and the MPA as a whole. Russell Moffitt from our team introduced the new MPAtlas website and our MPA classification reporting platform, which are due to come online this month. His presentation focused specifically on how we start with the global MPA data set from the WDPA and apply our growing inventory of completed MPA Guide assessments (currently hundreds are completed so far) as well as previously published RBCS protection levels reported in the literature. Our web applications support and collate the application of the MPA Guide and RBCS criteria to MPAs around the world.

Sue Wells from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature  (IUCN) and Sarah Hameed from Marine Conservation Institute rounded out the presentations by discussing the IUCN Green List certification program and Marine Conservation Institute’s Blue Parks program, which awards outstanding MPAs and aims to build a global ocean refuge network. Sue and Sarah compared the objectives, approaches, and criteria associated with each of these programs, illustrating how they both support the acceleration of well-managed and effective MPAs. The symposium was well received and has so far been viewed over 100 times.

Measured against the goals of advancing marine conservation science and management, IMCC6 was a great success in these challenging times. We want to thank the amazing people who organized and managed the conference on a job well done!