Marine Protected Areas

Over 70% of the surface of Earth is ocean, comprised of highly diverse ecosystems, and providing a wide range of marine ecosystem services that support human society, health and the economy. This website presents the most recent official coverage statistics for marine protected areas.

Explore marine protected areas How we calculate protected and conserved area coverage
Percent of the ocean covered by marine protected areas
Marine Protected Areas
Total area protected

A guide to identifying an MPA's protection level

A science based tool to identify different types of MPAs, this guide connects MPA types with the outcomes they are expected to achieve.

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Distribution of marine protected areas

The global coverage of marine protected areas (MPAs) is 8.06%. The Global Ocean can be divided into areas within national jurisdiction (National Waters) and those in international waters (Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ))

MPAs can be more easily created by governments in national waters where there are dedicated legal systems in place. In ABNJ it is more difficult to create MPAs due to the complex legal framework in place. As such, the percentage of MPAs created within national waters is much higher than that for ABNJ. National waters represent 39% of the global ocean and at present, 18.43% of these waters are designated as protected areas. In contrast, only 1.44% of ABNJ, which makes up the remaining 61% of the global ocean, has been established as protected areas. At present, international discussions are underway to establish ways of simplifying the process to create MPAs in ABNJ. For more information on this, please see the DOALOS website.

National waters and the High Seas

National waters represent an area of coastal water extending out to the limit of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) at 200 nautical miles from the baseline of a Coastal State. Coastal States have management jurisdiction over these waters, the resources within them and the resources in/under the seabed.

Marine Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ) are areas of the ocean that are not under the jurisdiction of any one country. Therefore, no individual nation has the sole responsibility for management of these areas. Defined in recent international discussions1, ABNJ includes both the High Seas – all parts of the sea that are not included in national waters2, and the "Area" – the seabed beyond the limits of national waters3.

National Waters

  • % of Protected Area Coverage
  • % of Ocean that is National waters

High Seas

  • % of Protected Area Coverage
  • % of Ocean that is High Seas

Growth in marine protected area coverage

Over the last several years the number and spatial extent of MPAs have increased rapidly.

Size distribution of marine protected areas

Much of the recent growth in MPA coverage has been driven by the establishment of very large MPAs over 100,000 km². Some countries, such as the USA, have protected the seas around their overseas territories. Others, such as the Cook Islands in the South Pacific Ocean, have protected their entire national waters. These vast MPAs each contribute a significant part of the total global ocean coverage, with the 20 largest making up the majority of the world’s marine protected area coverage. While these protected areas represent huge commitments to conservation, there is a need for international collaboration to ensure that MPAs achieve their desired conservation value.

Top 10 Size Distribution of Marine Protected Areas

Marine protected areas continue to be spatially heterogeneous, with some countries and territories creating enormous MPAs that can cover their entire National Waters (EEZ).

Growth in marine protected area coverage

Over the last several years the number and spatial extent of MPAs have increased rapidly. In 2000 the area covered by MPAs was approximately 2 million km² (or 0.7% of the Ocean), since then there has been over a ten-fold increase in MPA coverage with 29,202,667 km² (or 8.06%) of the ocean being covered by MPAs.


16.68% (2,490,814km2)

Asia & Pacific

18.2% (11,048,308km2)


8.53% (1,496,388km2)

Latin America & Caribbean

25.22% (5,776,590km2)

North America

15.11% (2,160,843km2)


44.51% (3,046,480km2)

West Asia

7.21% (104,099km2)

Protected Areas (18,436)

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Thematic Areas

Protected Planet Report 2020

Tracking progress towards global targets for protected and conserved areas

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