Measuring progress in marine protection: A new set of metrics to evaluate the strength of marine protected area networks
Marine protected areas (MPAs) have proven to be a valuable tool for both promoting the sustainable use of marine resources and long-term biodiversity conservation outcomes. Targets for marine protection under the Convention on Biological Diversity have seen rapid growth in MPAs globally, with progress judged using targets for total area protected rather than evaluating growth based on the capacity to protect biodiversity. The value of a MPA network to biodiversity conservation depends on a range of attributes of both individual MPAs and portfolios of MPAs, which are not captured by simple area-based targets. Therefore, a clear and efficient set of metrics are needed to effectively evaluate progress towards building MPA networks, considering the representation and adequacy of protection for biodiversity. We developed a universally applicable set of metrics that can evaluate network structure in relation to its capacity to conserve marine biodiversity. These metrics combine properties of effective individual MPAs with metrics for their capacity to function collectively as a network. To demonstrate the value of these metrics, we apply them to the Australian MPA network, the largest in the world. Collectively, the indicators suggest that while Australia has made significant progress in building a representative and well-structured MPA network, the level of protection offered to marine biodiversity is generally low, with insufficient coverage of no-take MPAs across many bioregions. The metrics reveal how the current value of the MPA network could be greatly increased by reducing the prevalence of multi-use zones that allow extractive activities known to negatively impact biodiversity.