Large-scale Marine Protected Areas

Marine spatial management has been a major international focus in recent years with an impetus on marine protected areas. Many large-scale MPAs cover thousands of kilometres of open ocean, and in some cases protect large swathes of empty water where there is little resource use.

An understanding of the international trends and drivers behind the establishment of large MPAs provides essential context for considering future proposals for their establishment and assessing the costs and benefits of alternative marine management approaches.

We identify major MPAs – established or proposed – each covering more than 100,000 square kilometres. Large MPAs are seldom established to achieve specific biodiversity protection objectives (although biodiversity protection may be a side-benefit) and tend to be opportunistic rather than carefully planned.

The establishment of large MPAs in the world’s oceans has little to do with domestic marine management priorities or policies – it is an escalating trend which has been driven by the misapplication of global numerical protection targets supported by the funding strategies of large international NGOs.

Some nations implement these ocean expanses in remotely owned waters to meet United Nations’ commitments to protect 10 percent of marine waters by 2020 with minimum impact on “mainland” economies. The attributes of these large-scale MPAs vary considerably in terms of area covered, level of protection provided, prohibitions on commercial fishing, approach to management (eg. zoning), and legal status. They can provide an option to avoid investment in effective fisheries management or to lay claim to remote or contested strategic oceanic assets.

Some key findings are: