Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Assessing progress towards global marine protection targets: shortfalls in information and action

  • Louisa J. Wood (a1), Lucy Fish (a2), Josh Laughren (a3) and Daniel Pauly (a1)

Current global marine protection targets aim to protect 10–30% of marine habitats within the next 3–5 years. However, these targets were adopted without prior assessment of their achievability. Moreover, ability to monitor progress towards such targets has been constrained by a lack of robust data on marine protected areas. Here we present the results of the first explicitly marine-focused, global assessment of protected areas in relation to global marine protection targets. Approximately 2.35 million km2, 0.65% of the world's oceans and 1.6% of the total marine area within Exclusive Economic Zones, are currently protected. Only 0.08% of the world's oceans, and 0.2% of the total marine area under national jurisdiction is no-take. The global distribution of protected areas is both uneven and unrepresentative at multiple scales, and only half of the world's marine protected areas are part of a coherent network. Since 1984 the spatial extent of marine area protected globally has grown at an annual rate of 4.6%, at which even the most modest target is unlikely to be met for at least several decades rather than within the coming decade. These results validate concerns over the relevance and utility of broad conservation targets. However, given the low level of protection for marine ecosystems, a more immediate global concern is the need for a rapid increase in marine protected area coverage. In this case, the process of comparing targets to their expected achievement dates may help to mobilize support for the policy shifts and increased resources needed to improve the current level of marine protection.

Corresponding author
Sea Around Us Project, Fisheries Centre, Aquatic Ecosystems Research Laboratory, 2202 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC, Canada, V6T 1Z4. E-mail
Hide All
Agardy T. (1994) Advances in marine conservation: the role of marine protected areas. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 9, 267270.
Agardy T., Bridgewater P., Crosby M.P., Day J., Dayton P.K., Kenchington R. et al. . (2003) Dangerous targets? Unresolved issues and ideological clashes around marine protected areas. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, 13, 353367.
Alder J. (1996) Have tropical marine protected areas worked? An initial analysis of their success. Coastal Management, 24, 97114.
Alder J. (2003) Putting the coast in the Sea Around Us project. Sea Around Us Project Newsletter, 15, 12.
Balmford A., Green R.E. & Jenkins M. (2003) Measuring the changing state of nature. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 18, 326330.
Carr M.H., Neigel J.E., Estes J.A., Andelman S., Warner R.R. & Largier J.L. (2003) Comparing marine and terrestrial ecosystems: implications for the design of coastal marine reserves. Ecological Applications, 13, S90S107.
CBD (2003) Marine and Coastal Biodiversity: Review, Further Elaboration and Refinement of the Programme of Work. Report of the Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group on Marine and Coastal Protected Areas. Convention on Biological Diversity, UNEP/CBD/SBSTTA/8/INF/7. Convention on Biological Diversity, Montreal, Canada.
CBD (2004) Decisions Adopted by the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity at its Seventh Meeting (Decision VII/30). Convention on Biological Diversity, UNEP/CBD/COP/7/21. Convention on Biological Diversity, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
CBD (2005) Draft Global Outcome-oriented Targets for the Programme of Work on Marine and Coastal Biological Diversity. Convention on Biological Diversity, UNEP/CBD/SBSTTA/10/8/Add.1. Convention on Biological Diversity, Bangkok, Thailand.
CBD (2006) Decisions Adopted by the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity at its Eighth Meeting (Decision VIII/15, Annex IV). Convention on Biological Diversity, Curitiba, Brazil.
Chape S., Harrison J., Spalding M. & Lysenko I. (2005) Measuring the extent and effectiveness of protected areas as an indicator for meeting global biodiversity targets. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B, 360, 443455.
Cowen R.K., Paris C.B. & Srinivasan A. (2006) Scaling of connectivity in marine populations. Science, 311, 522527.
Establishment of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument: A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America (2006) Presidential Proclamation 8031. Http://–18.html [accessed 26 July 2006].
GBRMPA (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority) (2004) Marine Park Zoning. Http:// [accessed 21 September 2005].
GBRMPA (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority) (2007) The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Http:// [accessed 30 July 2007].
Halpern B.S. & Warner R.R. (2003) Matching marine reserve design to reserve objectives. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B, 270, 18711878.
Hoyt E. (2005) Marine Protected Areas for Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises. Earthscan, London, UK.
IUCN (1988) Resolution 17.38 of the 17th General Assembly of the IUCN. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.
IUCN (2003) Recommendations of the Vth IUCN World Parks Congress. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.
Jameson S., Tupper M.H. & Ridley J.M. (2002) The three screen doors: can marine “protected” areas be effective? Marine Pollution Bulletin, 44, 11771183.
Jones P.J.S. (2006) Collective action problems posed by no-take zones. Marine Policy, 30, 143156.
Kelleher G., Bleakey C. & Wells S. (eds) (1995) A Global Representative System of Marine Protected Areas. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority/The World Bank/IUCN, Washington, DC, USA.
Kirkpatrick J.B. (1983) An iterative model for establishing priorities for the selection of nature reserves. Biological Conservation, 25, 127134.
Kitchingman A. & Lai S. (2004) Inferences on potential seamount locations from mid-resolution bathymetric data. In Seamounts: Biodiversity and Fisheries (eds Morato T. & Pauly D.), pp. 712. Fisheries Centre, Vancouver, Canada.
Laurel B.J. & Bradbury I.R. (2006) ‘Big’ concerns with high latitude marine protected areas (MPAs): trends in connectivity and MPA size. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, 63, 26032607.
Lubchenco J., Palumbi S.R., Gaines S.D. & Andelman S.J. (2003) Plugging a hole in the ocean: the emerging science of marine reserves. Ecological Applications, 13, S3S7.
Margules C.R. & Pressey R.L. (2000) Systematic conservation planning. Nature, 405, 243253.
McClanahan T.R. (1999) Is there a future for coral reef parks in poor tropical countries? Coral Reefs, 18, 321325.
Mora C., Andréfouët S., Kranenburg C., Rollo A., Costello M.J., Veron J. et al. (2006) Conservation of coral reefs by the global network of marine protected areas. Science, 312, 17501751.
Palumbi S.R. (2003) Population genetics, demographic connectivity, and the design of marine reserves. Ecological Applications, 13, S146S158.
Parmesan C. (2006) Ecological and evolutionary responses to recent climate change. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, 37, 637669.
Pauly D., Christensen V., Guénette S., Pitcher T., Sumaila U.R., Walters C. et al. . (2002) Towards sustainability in world fisheries. Nature, 418, 689695.
Pauly D. & Watson R. (2005) Background and interpretation of the ‘Marine Trophic Index’ as a measure of biodiversity. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B, 360, 415423.
Perry A.L., Low P.J., Ellis J.R. & Reynolds J.D. (2005) Climate change and distribution shifts in marine fishes. Science, 308, 19121915.
Pressey R.L., Cowling R.M. & Rouget M. (2003) Formulating conservation targets for biodiversity pattern and process in the Cape Floristic Region, South Africa. Biological Conservation, 112, 99127.
Ramsar Convention (1971) The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat, Ramsar, Iran, 2 February 1971. Http:// [accessed 31 August 2007].
Roberts C.M., Andelman S., Branch G., Bustamante R.H., Castilla J.C., Dugan J. et al. . (2003) Ecological criteria for evaluating candidate sites for marine reserves. Ecological Applications, 13, S199S214.
Roberts C.M., Hawkins J.P. & Gell F.R. (2005) The role of marine reserves in achieving sustainable fisheries. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Series B, 360, 123132.
Rodrigues A.S.L., Andelman S.J., Bakarr M.I., Boitani L., Brooks T.M., Cowling R.M. et al. . (2004) Effectiveness of the global protected area network in representing species diversity. Nature, 428, 640643.
Roff J.C. (2005) Conservation of marine biodiversity: too much diversity, too little cooperation. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, 15, 15.
Shanks A.L., Grantham B.A. & Carr M. (2003) Propagule dispersal distance and the size and spacing of marine reserves. Ecological Applications, 13, S159S169.
Simmonds M.P. & Isaac S.J. (2007) The impacts of climate change on marine mammals: early signs of significant problems. Oryx, 41, 1926.
Soulé M.E. & Sanjayan M.A. (1998) Conservation targets: do they help? Science, 279, 20602061.
UNEP-WCMC (2004) World Database on Protected Areas, Version 6.2. UNEP-WCMC, Cambridge, UK. Http:// [accessed 28 April 2007].
UNESCO (1970) Records of the General Conference, Sixteenth Session, Paris, 12 October to 14 November 1970, v.1: Resolutions. UNESCO, Paris, France.
UNESCO World Heritage Convention (1972) Convention Concerning the Protection of the World's Cultural and Natural Heritage, Paris, France, 17 October–17 November 1972. Http:// [accessed 31 August 2007].
United Nations (2002) Report of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, Johannesburg, South Africa, 26 August-4 September 2002. A/CONF.199/20. UN, New York, USA.
Walters C. (2000) Impacts of dispersal, ecological interactions, and fishing effort dynamics on efficacy of marine protected areas: how large should protected areas be? Bulletin of Marine Science, 66, 745757.
Wood L.J. (2007) MPA Global: A Database of the World's Marine Protected Areas. Sea Around Us Project, UNEP-WCMC & WWF, Vancouver, Canada. Http:// [accessed 5 July 2007].
Worm B., Lotze H.K. & Myers R.A. (2003) Predator diversity hotspots in the blue ocean. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 100, 98849888.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

  • ISSN: 0030-6053
  • EISSN: 1365-3008
  • URL: /core/journals/oryx
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Type Description Title
Supplementary Materials

Wood supplementary material

 PDF (49 KB)
49 KB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 21
Total number of PDF views: 269 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 1408 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 23rd October 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.