2018 Report

Trends and trajectories of marine protection

There has been a remarkable growth in marine protected areas (MPAs) in recent years. As highlighted at the UN Oceans Conference (2018), MPAs have increased more than 15-fold since 1993 when the CBD entered into force. A larger area of the ocean is now protected than on land, though proportionally the much larger ocean realm has lower percentage coverage than does the terrestrial realm. Since April 2016, more than 8 million km2 of new marine protected areas have been added to the WDPA, strengthening protection of ecological regions and Key Biodiversity Areas in the marine realm (4th International Marine Protected Areas Congress, 2017) (see also Chapter 4).

This growth in marine protection is largely the result of several countries declaring very large reserves, e.g. Brazil, Mexico, and some protecting their entire EEZ, e.g. the designation of the approximately 2 million km2 Marae Moana Marine Park in the Cook Islands in 2017. The four largest marine protected areas were created or expanded in the last two years (CBD Secretariat, 2018a). With continuous efforts from governments to implement existing commitments, the global coverage targets of Aichi Target 11 are likely to be met in the oceans, with the target already met for areas within EEZ. Despite this trend, an additional 10 million km2 is still required by 2020 to meet the ocean Target.

However, in recent years, there has been a considerable discussion on what should be 'counted' as a MPA (e.g. Sala et al., 2018; Horta e Costa et al., 2016; Dudley et al., 2017). Much of the confusion of what constitutes an MPA comes from a misunderstanding or under-appreciation of the core principles of MPAs, coupled with the conflation of the legal establishment of an area equating to the site having effective management and governance (IUCN WCPA, 2018a). Moreover, there have been questions raised about the strength and efficacy of some protected areas, which allow industrial fishing including destructive bottom trawling (Sala et al. 2018). IUCN has published Global Conservation Standards for MPAs (Day et al., 2012), including a clear definition and guiding principles, and over the last year, an international and multidisciplinary group has been working to develop a simple framework to describe different types of MPAs according to their level of protection and their stage of establishment, which would allow greater clarity and transparency in discussing and tracking MPAs, and reporting progress towards global goals.

While the general outlook for increasing marine protected area coverage is positive, to truly meet the target will require, amongst other things, the increased protection of ABNJ, of which only 1.2% is currently protected. Designating MPAs in ABNJ is significantly more difficult than in territorial waters, although the designation of the approximately 2 million km2 Ross Sea Marine Protected Area shows how this can be done.