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Hawaiian green sea turtles

Hawaiian green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) crowding into a small seaside cavern to bask at sunset. Resting on shore is a behaviour that is very rare for sea turtles, except in Hawaii and the Galapagos Islands. Hawaii, USA.

Credit: Doug Perrine / Minden Pictures

Marine Protected Areas

Call to action:

Protect and maintain critical marine environments in oceans, seas, and estuaries to safeguard biodiversity, ecosystems services, and natural and cultural resources.

Marine ecosystems are among the most endangered on the planet. Damage from human activity includes pollution, overfishing, offshore drilling, and seabed mining. Their combination with ocean acidification, warming temperatures, and other effects of climate change has put many marine environments in significant peril. In order to prevent further harm, governments across the globe have been designating Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), which are defined as marine and coastal zones where human activities are restricted and regulated. MPAs protect marine fauna, flora, and ecosystems while providing for Indigenous, traditional, and sustainable economic activities such as responsible fishing and ecotourism. The outcomes of MPAs can be extraordinary. Some have seen a doubling in marine populations, helping fisheries outside their boundaries remain sustainable. Supporting conservation efforts within MPAs and advocating for new and expanded MPAs can help restore the health of our oceans and the local communities that depend on them.

Nexus Rating SystemBeta

Solutions to the climate emergency have unique social and environmental effects, positive and negative. To develop a broader understanding of the solutions in Nexus, we rate each solution on five criteria.

Sources for each Nexus are graded numerically (-3 through 10), and the average is displayed as a letter grade. You can explore each source in depth by clicking “view sources” below. For more information, see our Nexus Ratings page.

Marine Protected Areas

Reference Social Justice Culture Women Biodiversity Carbon
Marine Protected Area status can boost fish populations by almost 400% 10.0
How Marine Protected Areas Help Fisheries and Ocean Ecosystems 10.0
Indigenous peoples rights and marine protected areas 8.0 8.0 9.0
The ups and downs of marine protected areas: Examining the evidence 5.0 5.0 7.0
Marine Protected Areas: At the Crossroads of Nature Conservation and Fisheries Management
Social equity and marine protected areas: Perceptions of small-scale fishermen in the Mediterreanean Sea 5.0 5.0
Women participation in the management of a Marine Protected Area in Brazil 5.0
Local Communities Playing Vital Role in Marine Conservation 7.0 7.0
Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuarys Intergovernmental Policy Council 7.0 7.0
Equity justice and power issues raised by no-take marine protected area proposals 3.0
Gender and marine protected areas: a case study of Danajon Bank Philippines 5.0 5.0
Gendering Marine Conservation: The Politics of Marine Protected Areas and Fisheries Access 5.0 5.0
Gender and MPAs 6.0 6.0
Women and MPAs: how gender affects planning and management 6.0 6.0
Women in Mediterranean MPAs 7.0 8.0 7.0
Equitable inclusion of women in Marine Protected Area management 5.0 6.0 5.0
Un-gendering the ocean: why women matter in ocean governance for sustainability 6.0 6.0
Another Challenge for Conservation Efforts: Gender Inequity 7.0
Gender equity and collaborative care in Madagascars locally managed marine areas: reflections on the launch of a fisherwomens network 8.0 7.0 7.0 9.0
Large marine protected areas represent biodiversity now and under climate change 7.0 8.0
A Scientific Synthesis of Marine Protected Areas in the United States: Status and Recommendations 10.0
Modelling the role of marine protected area in biodiversity conservation 10.0
Ecological effectiveness of marine protected areas across the globe in the scientific literature 4.0
Mediterranean marine protected areas have higher biodiversity via increased evenness not abundance 8.0
Seafloor Protection - Project Drawdown 7.0
Exploring the Depths of Water’s Role in Climate Change 7.0
Blue Carbon - The Role of Healthy Oceans in Binding Carbon 8.0
6.0 6.6 5.9 8.5 7.3

Action Items


Learn why MPAs are crucial for ocean conservation. Oceans account for 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, with 27 percent being territorial waters and 43 percent being international waters. Oceans, seas, bays, and estuaries play a critical role in the health of our planet. Over three billion people, millions of livelihoods, and countless aquatic species depend on healthy marine environments. Key points:

Participate in responsible ecotourism and travel to Marine Protected Areas. Marine ecotourism allows visitors from around the globe to admire vibrant and healthy marine wildlife in MPAs. Visiting MPAs provides a livelihood for communities looking after them and ensures their sustainable future. Here is a worldwide list of MPAs. Some examples include:

Join a campaign and speak up. Add your voice to movements advocating for the creation of MPAs:

Make a donation to organizations advocating for MPAs. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) play a critical role in the defense of our oceans. Many NGOs work closely with local and Indigenous communities, marine scientists, scuba divers, or local authorities to plan, create, and manage MPAs. Supporting these organizations with a donation or membership is vital to their success. See Key Players below for a list.

Take a marine conservation course. Marine conservation can increase climate resilience, restore marine habitats, and create jobs for local communities. You can learn the different conservation techniques through the following courses:


Environmental Organizations

Advocate for the creation of MPAs and raise awareness about their long-term benefits. Environmental organizations can play a key role in advocating for the creation of MPAs. By working closely with local communities, these organizations can identify important or endangered marine ecosystems in their region, run campaigns to raise awareness about their need for protection and propose effective regulations for long-term management of MPAs.

Advocate for No-Take Zones (NTZs) in MPAs. As of 2021, MPAs cover just 7.9 percent of the oceans, and many of them are still open to fishing. As a result, around 90 percent of the world’s fish stocks are either fully fished or overexploited. No-Take Zones (NTZs) are established in MPAs to prohibit extractive activities such as fishing, mining, and drilling. They are considered to be among the most effective means of biodiversity conservation.

Network and collaborate with Indigenous groups. Conservation organizations increasingly regard Indigenous-led actions as the only legitimate form of conservation. Communities with long histories with their seas deeply understand local ecosystems and their dynamics, which can result in better-informed conservation actions. For example, Indigenous peoples can play an important role in monitoring ecosystems, as some of these groups live in remote, hard-to-reach areas. They often collect data through everyday experiences, allowing them to report trends for species, population numbers over time, interactions among species, or noticeable declines.

MPAs is critical to ensuring their sustainable future and conveying conservation methods to future generations. There are many ways to engage with people and offer them fun and exciting ways to learn about marine conservation:


Implement best practices in the designation of MPAs. Follow guidelines to effectively identify, designate, and establish MPAs in order to secure their future. Some of the key tenets include:

Center Indigenous communities in the decision-making and management process. Around 40 percent of the world’s Indigenous groups have coastal ocean and island regions within their homelands, territories, and nations. MPAs or areas being considered for them often include the traditional lands and waters of Indigenous peoples. These waters include marine resources that Indigenous people use for medicinal, subsistence, spiritual, religious, and other purposes. Collaborating with Indigenous peoples in decision-making and managing MPAs is critical to ensuring their sustainable future.

Join a global MPA network. As defined by the IUCN, MPA Networks allow park authorities and managers to cooperate and synergize to discuss best practices for planning, implementing, and managing MPAs. Some of the most effective MPA networks around the world include:

Strengthen measures against destructive fishing practices. IUU fishing, including gillnettinglong-lining, and bycatch, can severely hurt conservation efforts in MPAs. Nations that do not have regulatory programs to reduce or mitigate such practices threaten the sustainability of shared ecosystems and living marine resources. Governments should ensure thorough fishing regulations are effectively enforced, including policies and practices against IUU fishing, and implement stronger sanctions, comprehensive control along the value chain, and more cooperation among fisheries’ stakeholders.

Ban or place moratoriums on offshore drilling. The exploration and extraction of oil and gas present great risks to MPAs and the wildlife they host. The impact of oil spills can last generations, decimating entire ecosystems and destroying key coastal industries such as fishing and tourism. Following the Deepwater Horizon oil spillsome 4,900 to 7,600 large juvenile and adult sea turtles and between 56,000 and 166,000 small juvenile sea turtles were killed. Therefore, oil and gas exploration and development activities in MPAs should be banned along with other environmentally destructive practices.

Commit to a national moratorium on deep seabed mining. Twenty-five nations have taken positions against deep seabed mining in international waters. It is essential for all governments to participate in the negotiations currently underway in favor of a moratorium. Eighty-one governments that attended the IUCN World Conservation Congress voted in favor of the moratorium (see Deep Seabed Mining Nexus).


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