International goals for the protection of oceans through MPAs will not be met by their set deadlines, according to a study announced at the First International Marine Protected Areas Congress (IMPAC1), held in Geelong, Australia, in October 2005.

Louisa Wood, a Ph.D. candidate of the Sea Around Us project at the Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia (Canada), released data indicating that the World Parks Congress target of creating a global system of MPA networks by 2012 – including “strictly protected areas” amounting to at least 20-30% of each habitat (MPA News 5:4) – will not be reached until at least 2085 at the current rate of global MPA designation. The 2085 date in itself represents a best-case scenario that is unlikely to occur. It assumes that all MPAs designated from now onward will be “strictly protected” – i.e., no-take – and that all existing MPAs will be converted to no-take as well. More realistic assumptions would delay the projected achievement date well past 2085, says Wood.

Similarly, a recommendation made earlier this year by a subsidiary body of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) – that 10% of all marine and coastal ecological regions be conserved in MPAs by 2012 – will not be met until 2069.

“The current rate of increase in protection is far below what is necessary to meet these targets,” says Wood. Her data were gathered as part of the MPA Global project, which is building an enhanced database of MPAs worldwide (MPA News 6:8). Wood is heading the initiative, a collaboration with the UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas-Marine, and World Wildlife Fund.

Wood’s projected rates of MPA designation are based on growth of global MPA coverage to date. Her projections were built on a linear regression of cumulative MPA area over time since 1979, and extension of that rate into the future. Wood emphasizes that the rate of designation represents a snapshot based on recent history. As initiatives to increase marine protection are implemented in national waters and on the high seas, the rate of increase in protection – and consequently the time by which targets are met – may also change.


Delegates to IMPAC1 responded with their thoughts on the implications of these findings, and how rates of MPA designation could be increased.

“There is no doubt that when the targets were set they were considered feasible,” says Nik Lopoukhine, chair of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA). “But unless there is a concerted effort to create more MPAs – and I would suggest they need to be at a scale that approaches that of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park – we are staring at failure. Success will be dependent on bringing in the resource sectors, the transportation sectors, and the broader communities to buy into the vision that was forged at the World Parks Congress and the targets under the Convention on Biodiversity.”

Tundi Agardy, executive director of Sound Seas, a US-based NGO, cautions that the push for ambitious MPA targets on very short timeframes risks the danger of rewarding decision-makers for simply picking the “low-hanging fruit”: designating sites that are politically easy rather than ecologically important. Despite this, she says, achieving the CBD and World Parks Congress targets in a meaningful way remains possible. “Many nations are consciously or sub-consciously moving toward ocean zoning, in which designation of special areas as MPAs is a critical step,” she says. “And the world is coming to realize the value of coastal and marine ecosystem services, and will take extraordinary steps to establish regional or multi-lateral frameworks to make high-seas MPAs and regional MPA networks a reality.”

Penelope Figgis, WCPA vice chair for Australia and New Zealand, says the main factor in making progress on MPA designations is communication. “If the general community and decision-makers are adequately exposed to the wonders of the marine world and the truth about its destruction and degradation, they will be moved to act,” she says. “We need communication experts as much as we need scientists.” She acknowledges the likelihood of achieving the World Parks Congress target worldwide is low, but suggests the target still creates momentum for significant gains in marine protection in various regions. “Targets are a very useful mechanism,” she says. “They create an impetus for a program and allow effort to be measured. Even if we fall short of the World Parks Congress and CBD goals, they will provide a stepping-stone for future targets after 2012.”

Richard Kenchington, board chair of the International Coral Reef Action Network (ICRAN), says achieving the World Parks Congress target for strictly protected areas is unlikely to occur “for some decades”, as it would require a scale and complexity of policy development and planning that is improbable within the next several years. Although he considers strictly protected areas to be an essential component of marine conservation, he questions whether the focus on them is more of a distraction than an aid. Where marine habitat protection is regarded simply as a conservation sector “use”, he says, it can polarize (i.e., “no-take areas versus fisheries”) rather than foster a coherent pursuit of both conservation and ecologically sustainable use of natural resources. He would like to see greater appreciation for the habitat protection afforded by other kinds of management measures, such as areas that are closed to certain gear types but open to others. “Conservation is more likely to be achieved through marine ecosystem and resource management organizations providing multi-objective policy, planning, and management than through continuing sectoral confrontations between conservation and fisheries,” he says. By recognizing that other management regimes beyond no-take zones can protect habitat effectively, he says, our conception of “marine protected areas” will broaden, as will our appreciation for the true extent of global marine conservation efforts.

For more information

Louisa Wood, Fisheries Centre, 2259 Lower Mall, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Tel: +1 604 822 1636; E-mail:; Web:

Nik Lopoukhine, Parks Canada, 6th floor – Room 5, 25 Eddy St., Gatineau, QC K1A 0M5, Canada. Tel: +1 819 953 9481; E-mail:

Tundi Agardy, Sound Seas, 6620 Broad Street, Bethesda, MD 20816, USA. Tel: +1 240 505 9105; E-mail:

Penelope Figgis, World Commission on Protected Areas, 4 Woolcott Street, Waverton NSW 2060, Australia. Tel: +61 2 99225275; E-mail:

Richard Kenchington, Centre for Maritime Policy, University of Wollongong NSW 2522, Australia. Tel: 61 2 62515597; E-mail: