New Calculation of World MPA Coverage is Twice Previous Estimates, but Still Far Below Target

MPA News

A coalition of six UK-based NGOs has concluded that global MPA coverage amounts to 3.2% of the world ocean. That figure is well below the 10% global MPA coverage target set by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity for 2020. On the bright side, the 3.2% figure is at least double what other experts have estimated for current coverage, as recently as early 2012 (MPA News 13:5).

The Marine Reserves Coalition, which calculated the global MPA coverage figure, also assessed MPA coverage by country. The latter calculations resulted in a Top 5 of:

  1. Monaco (100% MPA coverage of country's total sea area)
  2. Bosnia and Herzegovina (97.1%)
  3. Portugal (51.6%)
  4. Kazakhstan (47.3%)
  5. Estonia (45.7%)

The coalition consists of the Blue Marine Foundation, ClientEarth, Greenpeace UK, Marine Conservation Society, Pew Environment Group, and the Zoological Society of London (www.marinereservescoalition.org ). Below, MPA News speaks with coalition coordinator Fiona Llewellyn and analyst Chris Yesson about their calculations of MPA coverage and the implications for global MPA progress:

MPA News: Your 3.2% figure for global MPA coverage is twice as high as some other estimates. How do you explain this difference, considering your data came from the same source that other calculations have used - the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA)?

Fiona Llewellyn: There are a number of large protected areas that are missing from the WDPA. So although our analysis was based primarily on the WDPA, we did have to manually add our own data as well, where we were aware of missing areas.

Chris Yesson: The WDPA is continually updated, so there are more MPAs in it now than, say, six months ago. For example, the 1 million-km2 South Georgia MPA, designated by the UK, only appeared in the WDPA in June 2012, and several relatively large MPAs (tens of thousands of square kilometers in size) were not yet in the WDPA when I did our analysis. Also, I do not know what definition of "marine protected area" other analyses have used in their coverage calculations. This might have led them to exclude some areas that are effectively fisheries management zones (i.e., with very limited protection) that we included in our calculations.

MPA News: The top five countries for MPA coverage include Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kazakhstan, and Estonia - each not often recognized for its MPA work. Based on their rankings in your table, would you consider these countries to be leaders in marine conservation?

Llewellyn: No. In fact this was something we discussed on a number of occasions: that is, given the hugely different EEZ sizes of nations, is analyzing progress by gross proportion of EEZ the best approach?

Yesson: The countries at the top of the ranking typically have very small coastlines and hence small EEZs. The total sea area of Bosnia and Herzegovina, for example, is 21 km2. This makes it relatively easy to get to high area protection, and does not necessarily make a country like Bosnia and Herzegovina a world leader in MPAs. That being said, Portugal - which is #3 in our ranking - does have a large, globally significant EEZ (1.7 million km2). Its position in the ranking is thanks to two very large no-trawl zones in the Azores and Madeira.

Llewellyn: Going forward we hope to build upon our analysis. We may look at more complex ways of ranking countries that take total size of EEZ into account. We believe that countries with larger EEZs have a greater responsibility (and opportunity) for conservation, and therefore should be leading the way in marine stewardship.

MPA News: Do you plan to do a similar table to document no-take area coverage for each nation?

Llewellyn: When we undertook this work, it was our primary intention to analyze global no-take coverage alongside global MPA coverage to illustrate how much global MPA area is fully protected [against all extraction]. A key message of the Marine Reserves Coalition is that our 3.2% coverage figure does not mean that 3.2% of the ocean is fully protected. Protection levels within these areas vary greatly.

Unfortunately, the no-take (and management) data within the WDPA are not comprehensive enough for analysis - there are simply too many missing entries in the no-take data field. So instead we looked at the 20 largest MPAs and investigated ourselves how much of the total area is actually no-take. This was surprisingly a very long process, due to lack of readily available information. It is an area of work we intend to pursue further.

MPA News: Some practitioners have suggested there should be greater attention paid to managing existing MPAs effectively, as opposed to designating new MPAs in a effort simply to achieve coverage targets. Are you concerned about a flurry of paper parks being designated by governments to achieve the 10% target by 2020?

Llewellyn: We want to see governments actively working toward achieving - as an absolute minimum first step - the 10% target from the Convention on Biological Diversity. However, we stress that effective management must accompany designation. Otherwise biodiversity protection and restoration cannot be achieved.

[Editor's note: The Marine Protected Areas League Table of Nations is available at www.marinereservescoalition.org/files/2012/07/Marine_Reserves_Coalition_MPA_League_Table_June2012.pdf .]

For more information:

Fiona Llewellyn, Zoological Society of London, UK. E-mail: Fiona.Llewellyn [at] zsl.org