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Explore the World's Marine Protected Areas

Over 70% of the surface of Earth is ocean, comprised of highly diverse ecosystems, and providing a wide range of marine ecosystem services that support human society, health and the economy. This website presents the most recent official coverage statistics for marine protected areas, updated monthly from the World Database on Protected Areas.

Learn how we calculate protected area coverage statistics

Protected areas coverage in 2017

Number of Marine Protected Areas

Percent of the ocean covered by protected areas

%

Total area protected

km2

The designations employed and the presentation of material on this map do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Secretariat of the United Nations concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.

Distribution of marine protected areas

The global coverage of marine protected areas (MPAs) is 6.96%. The Global Ocean can be divided into areas within national jurisdiction (National Waters) and those in international waters (Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ))

MPAs can be more easily created by governments in national waters where there are dedicated legal systems in place. In ABNJ it is more difficult to create MPAs due to the complex legal framework in place. As such, the percentage of MPAs created within national waters is much higher than that for ABNJ. National waters represent 39% of the global ocean and at present, 16.02% of these waters are designated as protected areas. In contrast, only 1.18% of ABNJ, which makes up the remaining 61% of the global ocean, has been established as protected areas. At present, international discussions are underway to establish ways of simplifying the process to create MPAs in ABNJ. For more information on this, please see the DOALOS website.

National waters and the High Seas

National waters represent an area of coastal water extending out to the limit of the Exclusive Economic Zone at 200 nautical miles from the baseline of a Coastal State. Coastal States have management jurisdiction over these waters, the resources within them and the resources in/under the seabed.

Marine Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ) are areas of the ocean that are not under the jurisdiction of any one country. Therefore, no individual nation has the sole responsibility for management of these areas. Defined in recent international discussions1, ABNJ includes both the High Seas – all parts of the sea that are not included in national waters2, and the "Area" – the seabed beyond the limits of national waters3.

The Global Ocean

National waters %

High Seas %

Protected Area coverage of national waters

% (km2)

Protected Area coverage of the high seas

% (km2)

Growth in marine protected area coverage

Over the last several years the number and spatial extent of MPAs have increased rapidly. In 2000 the area covered by MPAs was approximately 2 million km² (or 0.7% of the Ocean), since then there has been over a ten-fold increase in MPA coverage with 23 million km² (or 6.96%) of the ocean being covered by MPAs.

Since 2010, marine protected area coverage has increased by over 14 million km². The progress in growth results from a combination of sites being expanded e.g. US Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the USA which increased to just over 1.5 million km², and new sites being created e.g. the Pitcairn Islands Marine Reserve which covers an area greater than 800,000 km², and the recent designation of Marae Moana Marine Park in the Cook islands covering an area of 1.97 million km².

An additional 6.6 million km² has been added to the marine protected area network over the last 12 months. This growth has been focused in national waters, while in areas beyond national jurisdiction, marine protected areas make up only 1.18% of total area, showing no change from recent years.

MPAs within national waters

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) can be created for a variety of purposes in different areas within the global ocean. There is a higher percentage of MPAs established within national waters than in ABNJ (relative to the size of area). In addition, a number of nations have extensive national waters around their overseas countries or territories (a territory or country that is a part of or dependent upon another state but is geographically distinct from that state). Much of the recent growth in MPA coverage has been driven by the establishment of very large MPAs created or expanded by a few overseas countries and territories. The USA, France and United Kingdom and their overseas countries and territories make up over 50% of the area covered by MPAs while Australia , Cook Islands, New Zealand and Mexico cover an additional 30%.

Size distribution of marine protected areas

Much of the recent growth in MPA coverage has been driven by the establishment of very large MPAs over 100,000 km². Some countries, such as the USA, have protected the seas around their overseas territories. Others, such as the Cook Islands in the South Pacific Ocean, have protected their entire national waters. These vast MPAs each contribute a significant part of the total global ocean coverage, with the 20 largest making up 70% of the total. While these protected areas represent huge commitments to conservation, there is a need for international collaboration to ensure that MPAs achieve their desired conservation value.

Top 10 Marine Protected Areas by size

Top 20 Marine Protected Areas by size

Marine protected area representation

Despite these positive trends, gaps in MPA coverage or representativeness may undermine the conservation impact of existing MPAs. Of the 62 marine provinces, half have over 10% of their area covered by protected areas, representing an increase of 12% since 2014. Potential opportunities for new MPAs, such as in ABNJ or in areas of known critical habitat, would help to generate a globally representative network of MPAs.

50% of all marine provinces have over 10% of their marine area protected

Most protected marine provinces

Least protected marine provinces

Commitments and pledges

UNEP-WCMC and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) secretariat are tracking commitments made by nations to expand their protected area networks. Over 15 million km² has been pledged by over 70 countries and territories. The Regional Seas Conventions play a fundamental role in supporting sustainable management and use of the marine and coastal environment. Two of these regional conventions, namely OSPAR, the regional sea organization for the North East Atlantic, and the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCMALR) have driven the establishment of MPAs in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

Submissions by countries to the World Database on Protected Areas are used to track progress towards global environmental commitments such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets under the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020.

Current pledges

km2

Global MPA pledges

Download this data

Most recent designations

PA name
Country
Size
Date of designation

Effectively and equitably managed marine protected areas

An increasing need exists for the evaluation and understanding of the effectiveness of marine protected areas operating around the world. Protected Area Management Effectiveness (PAME), and in particular the Management Effectiveness Tracking Tool (METT), is used in many parts of the world. Using such tools, a recent study (Gill et al. 2017) suggests that while ecological factors are key to enhancing the performance of MPAs, available capacity including resources and staff are fundamental for effective protected area management.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Commission on Protected Areas initiated the IUCN Green List of Protected and Conserved Areas Standard to increase the number of protected and conserved areas that are effectively and equitably managed and deliver conservation outcomes. See a list of marine protected areas below that potentially meet the Green List Standard.