Effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas (MPA)

Recent research published in the journal “Conservation Letters” reveals the limitations of many of the world’s largest Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), questioning their ability to deliver expected benefits to both people and nature. The study, led by a team of scientists from the Marine Conservation Institute, focused on the 100 largest MPAs, which account for 90% of the total global area of marine protected regions.

The findings are concerning:

  • Only one-third of the areas within these MPAs offer a level of protection likely to yield significant benefits for nature.
  • A quarter of the areas within these MPAs have not yet been implemented, meaning there is no real protection in place.
  • Moreover, over one-third of the area within these MPAs allows industrial activities or other intensive exploitations, such as large-scale fishing, which significantly contribute to the depletion of marine biodiversity.
  • Most of the large, fully protected areas are located in isolated overseas territories, managed by countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States.


The study, based on criteria from “The MPA Guide: A framework to Achieve Global Goals for the Ocean,” published in “Science” in September 2021, shows that current monitoring and reporting methods may overestimate the effectiveness of MPAs. The analysis underscores the need for effective implementation and management of MPAs and their expansion across all marine ecosystems.

MPAs, managed with the long-term conservation of nature in mind, aim to protect marine biodiversity, support healthy ecosystems, and provide benefits for humans and the environment. However, the results of the study challenge the effectiveness of current conservation efforts in achieving the stated goals of marine protection.

The analysis reveals significant differences in the design, regulations, and management of MPAs, leading to a diversity of conservation outcomes. For example, some MPAs allow activities such as resource extraction or industrial fishing, which are at odds with conservation goals. About 9.7 million square kilometers, or nearly 37% of the areas studied, allow highly destructive industrial activities, which are incompatible with conservation. This discrepancy raises concerns about the effectiveness of MPAs in achieving their intended outcomes. Implementing the standards from “The MPA Guide” can bring clarity to these issues, though some areas still do not meet international standards.

Currently, the World Database of Protected Areas lists over 18,000 MPAs covering about 30 million square kilometers, or about 8% of the world’s ocean area. The analysis shows that the 100 largest MPAs account for most of this area, with about 75% of it being actively managed or already implemented. The rest are waiting for implementation, and the lack of proper management in these areas means they are no different from the surrounding waters and do not provide any conservation benefits.

In addition to many large MPAs being located in remote overseas territories, leaving key habitats and species unprotected, important areas already heavily impacted by human activity also need to be included in an MPA network. As nations strive to meet Goal 3 of the Global Biodiversity Framework (protecting at least 30% of the oceans by 2030), it is critical that the quality and standards of MPAs are regularly reviewed and documented, which is crucial for achieving the anticipated ecological and socio-economic benefits.

About the author

Picture of Grzegorz Bubak

Grzegorz Bubak

My fascination with marine aquariums began over two decades ago when I stumbled upon an article about this topic in a magazine. Since then, the underwater world has become my obsession and passion, shaping my everyday life. I started my adventure with marine aquariums with soft corals, which were my first step into this fascinating world. Over time, captivated by the diversity and beauty of SPS corals, I decided to focus on their cultivation, which continues to fill me with constant wonder.

Thanks to my experience and passion for marine aquariums, I am ready to share my knowledge and expertise with other enthusiasts in this field. I am happy to be part of the Reef Pedia community, which serves as an invaluable source of information for all marine aquarium lovers.