What Are We Actually Protecting In The Ocean?

Small reef fish find shelter from predators in coral thickets. Photo ©XL Catlin Seaview Survey.

By Carissa Klein, James Watson, Ben Halpern and Jennifer McGowan

One of the great recent success stories in conservation is the rapid increase in the establishment of marine protected areas (MPAs). Since 2006, there has been a staggering growth of 10 million km2 of new MPAs globally, a nearly four-fold increase over the past decade.

Small reef fish find shelter from predators in coral thickets. Photo ©XL Catlin Seaview Survey.

In 2010 in Aichi Japan, the global community established a number of conservation targets through the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), with one (Aichi Target 11) aimed at setting aside a full 10 percent of the earth’s oceans – especially ‘areas of particular importance for biodiversity’ – by 2020. This target is intended to drive MPA establishment this decade.

Yet there has been no baseline for measuring how well our marine species are represented in protected areas. Until now.

A new paper we have published in Nature’s Scientific Reports assesses the overlap of global MPAs with the ranges of 17,348 marine species (fishes, mammals, invertebrates). We have discovered some sobering results: most marine species are not well represented within MPAs and several hundred species are not covered at all.

A stonefish lingers on a bed of Acropora. Photo ©XL Catlin Seaview Survey.

Marine protected areas are a key management tool for biodiversity conservation. Some are no-take zones, while others allow limited fishing and other industry. They help support marine biodiversity by providing safe places for breeding, migration and recovery.

There is also increasing evidence that, when well managed and well placed, they can enhance fisheries outside their boundaries through accumulated benefits inside the MPAs ‘spilling out’ to areas open to fisheries.

Even at this time when more areas of the sea are protected than ever before in human history, total area protected remains below —> Read More