Scientists from around the world unite to implement effective marine protected areas | - CCMAR -

Scientists from around the world unite to implement effective marine protected areas


►“The MPA Guide: A Framework to Achieve Global Goals for the Ocean” is authored by 42 scientists from 38 institutions across 6 continents. It results from 10 years of collaborative research and was published in the SCIENCE magazine. 

►Portugal participates with two scientists among the authors of this publication: Emanuel Gonçalves, scientific coordinator and administrator at the Oceano Azul Foundation, researcher at MARE and Associate Professor at Ispa – Instituto Universitário, and Bárbara Horta e Costa, CCMAR researcher at the University of Algarve


The MPA Guide is the most recent and comprehensive study on Marine Protected Areas, which synthesizes all the scientific information needed to understand, plan, establish, assess and monitor ocean protection through the creation of Marine Protected Areas. Published on Friday, September 10, in SCIENCE magazine, the Guide to Marine Protected Areas: A Framework for Achieving Global Goals for the Ocean (MPA Guide) involves 42 natural and social science authors from 38 institutions across six continents. It allows us to assess the need, effectiveness and urgency of ocean protection as well as the achievement of global goals to reverse the loss of biodiversity through marine protected areas.

The MPA Guide categorizes marine protected areas according to four levels of protection - full, high, light or minimal - and four implementation states - proposed, designated, implemented and actively managed - combining both criteria and showing the benefits that the marine protected areas can aspire to achieve.

“The benefits of marine protected areas are critical to our future. For the first time, the MPA Guide provides a way to track these benefits using a single framework, shared language, and consistent approach. It will provide a fact-based understanding of where we are in protecting the ocean,” says Dr. Kirsten Grorud-Colvert, Associate Professor at Oregon State University  and lead author of The MPA Guide. “With that clarity, we can monitor global progress and identify needed science-based actions. We must ensure that marine protected areas are effectively implemented to protect our ocean from the devastating consequences of overuse by man and ensure the benefits it provides.”

Portugal has a presence in this study, through two scientists who were heavily involved in the development of the MPA Guide and are part of the network of specialists in marine protected areas that includes several international researchers and key entities at a global level.

“Marine Protected Areas work and are the most effective tool to protect marine life and restore ecosystems. But they only produce these benefits if they are correctly implemented and if they have a high level of protection. The Marine Protected Areas Guide (MPA Guide) clarifies the different types of protection and the status of implementation of current and future marine protected areas, associating them with the expected results. This makes it possible to bring clarity and transparency to the implementation of marine protected areas to support national and international conservation policies", says Emanuel Gonçalves, co-author of the article and Scientific Coordinator and Administrator of the Fundação Oceano Azul, Associate Professor at Ispa – Instituto Universitário and researcher at MARE – Centro de Ciências do Mar e do Ambiente, who is a specialist in ocean conservation and has been involved in the creation, monitoring and implementation of Marine Protected Areas in different regions of the globe.

Bárbara Horta e Costa,co-author of the article and PhD researcher at CCMAR and Universidade do Algarve (UAlg), who led, with Emanuel Gonçalves, the development of a 'Classification System for Marine Protected Areas Based on Regulations' as part of a European collaborative project, and co-led the development of protection levels in the MPA guide, highlights that "the MPA Guide will enable researchers, practitioners, users and decision-makers of marine protected areas to understand what is expected of their marine protected areas. Assessing the quality of marine protected areas can thus be comparable at a global level. This is extremely important to move towards efficient and effective marine protected areas, and that make a difference, actually protecting!"

This is the culmination of a decade of collaborative and inclusive research that has involved hundreds of scientists, managers, representatives of ocean protection and management organizations and other stakeholders. The MPA Guide comes at a critical moment in the international ocean agenda, and when countries are still negotiating the goal of protecting at least 30% of the ocean by 2030, which will be submitted for decision at the Convention on Biological Diversity scheduled for Kunming, in China.
While Marine Protected Areas are a central tool for ocean conservation, not all Marine Protected Areas are the same. There are in fact several types of marine protected areas with different objectives, regulations, levels of implementation and, consequently, different results. This multiplicity causes confusion. For example, some marine protected areas allow fishing, aquaculture and mooring, while others do not. Some marine protected areas exist only on paper but are not active in the ocean (they have no rules, or management or monitoring). In the absence of guidance on how to categorize marine protected areas or determine their likely outcomes, there is considerable inconsistency. One of the critical issues is the mismatch between what is expected of a marine protected area and its actual results. Another is the absence of a reliable way to assess what proportion of the ocean is actually protected, leading to inaccurate numbers and inconsistency about what protection actually exists around the world.

By providing the science, facts and framework for categorizing different types of marine protected areas and tracking their progress, the MPA Guide aims to provide all stakeholders with the tools and practical guidance needed to ensure that marine protected areas are effectively designed to fulfill its objectives of conserving biodiversity and benefiting populations.

There are four main components in the MPA Guide:

  • Implementation Status, specify the level of implementation of a marine protected area - whether it exists only on paper or is it operational.
  • Protection Level, clarifies the degree of protection for biodiversity from extractive or destructive activities.
  • Conditions for Success provide the principles and processes necessary to successfully plan, design and manage a marine protected area.
  • Conservation Outcomes describe the expected outcomes in terms of conservation and social benefits of a marine protected area in a given state of implementation and level of protection, provided that the conditions for success are present.

The MPA Guide will be continuously tested and adjusted. Portugal, France, Indonesia and the United States of America already have marine protected area specialists using the MPA Guide to analyze and categorize existing marine protected areas so that communities and governments can assess the current situation and make informed decisions. Practical tests are also being carried out to improve the transparency and understanding of data on marine protected areas globally.

“The MPA Guide was designed to reinforce and complement existing systems such as the IUCN Protected Areas Categories,” says Dan Laffoley, co-author of the article and vice president for ocean of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas, one of the main partners of the MPA Guide. "It presents a complete assessment of the protection that an MPA provides, which will be useful, both locally and globally, as countries increase their protection of the ocean." he added.

“The MPA Guide reflects a collective ambition to find a coherent language and consistent approach to conserving biodiversity in the global ocean. With it, we can strengthen international dialogue and collaboration and provide the necessary transparency to assess protected areas and ensure that they are designed to offer the best results for the recovery of biodiversity”, said Naomi Kingston, co-author of the MPA Guide and Head of Operations of the United Nations Environment Program World Conservation Monitoring Center (UNEP-WCMC), also a key partner in the initiative. “If the global community can use it to increase the level of protection, and the extent and effectiveness of marine protected areas, we can achieve our global ambition to conserve life in the ocean.”

The urgency to protect the global ocean and create Marine Protected Areas as conservation tools is greater than ever. For its creation and implementation, the MPA Guide establishes a common language, promotes shared understanding, provides clear definitions and describes expected results to bring transparency and clarity to the state of ocean protection.