MPA Global Database Releases Figures: MPAs Cover Just 0.65% of Oceans

MPA News

A project to create a global database on marine protected areas has released new figures on the state of the MPA field. Representing the most authoritative figures to date, the findings show the small total area covered by MPAs worldwide - less than 1%.

The figures come from the MPA Global database (, housed at the University of British Columbia (UBC). Created and managed by Louisa Wood as part of her Ph.D. thesis, MPA Global is a collaboration of the UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre, IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas-Marine, World Wildlife Fund, and the Sea Around Us Project at UBC's Fisheries Centre. The MPA Global database originated from the World Database on Protected Areas, and is in the process of being re-incorporated in the latter (MPA News 9:7).

The figures below are from MPA Global; these and other figures from the project are presented in Wood's Ph.D. thesis, which she defended in December 2007. Wood is also lead author on a paper providing more detailed analysis of the global system of MPAs, in press in the journal Oryx. (Editor's note: Wood now serves as technical advisor on MPAs for IUCN's Global Marine Programme, working on projects in support of implementing the World Commission on Protected Areas - Marine Plan of Action. These projects include the "Wet List" - a new global partnership to map progress, recognize successes in marine conservation, and identify challenges to building MPA networks and conserving the marine environment ["Global MPA Priorities to Be Set this Month...", MPA News 8:9].)

The criterion for inclusion in MPA Global is the IUCN definition of MPA: "an area of intertidal or subtidal terrain, together with its overlying water and associated flora, fauna, historical and cultural features, which has been reserved by law or other effective means to protect part or all of the enclosed environment" (IUCN 1992). To date there remains debate over whether some types of spatial management measures, such as permanent fisheries closures, should be included in the database. MPA Global does not include such areas.

Number of MPAs designated worldwide: 4435

Area covered by MPAs worldwide: 2.35 million km2

Percentage of world oceans covered by MPAs: 0.65%

Percentage of area within Exclusive Economic Zones worldwide covered by MPAs: 1.6%

Percentage of global MPA area subject to no-take regulations: 12.8%

Percentage of world's oceans subject to no-take regulations: 0.08% (This is the first estimate of global no-take area that is based directly on no-take data. It improves on previous estimates that relied on the use of sites' IUCN management categories as a proxy for no-take data.)

Mean area of MPAs: 544 km2

Median area of MPAs: 4.6 km2 (The substantial difference between mean and median MPA size is largely attributable to 10 very large MPAs, below, constituting 75% of global MPA area.)

Ten largest MPAs:

  1. Phoenix Islands Protected Area (country: Kiribati) - 410,500 km2
  2. Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (U.S.) - 362,000 km2
  3. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (Australia) - 344,400 km2
  4. Macquarie Island Marine Park (Australia) - 162,000 km2
  5. Galápagos Marine Reserve (Ecuador) - 133,000 km2
  6. Greenland National Park (Denmark) - 110,000 km2, excluding terrestrial area
  7. Seaflower Marine Protected Area (Colombia) - 65,000 km2
  8. Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve (Australia) - 64,600 km2
  9. Komandorsky Zapovednik (Russia) - 55,800 km2, including buffer zone
  10. Wrangel Island Zapovednik (Russia) - 46,700 km2, including buffer zone

Percentage of global MPA area located within the tropical latitude belt (between 30°N and 30°S): 65%

Percentage of global MPA area located in latitudes higher than 50°: 31%

For more information: Louisa Wood, IUCN, 116 New Montgomery St, Suite 810, San Francisco, CA 94105, U.S. E-mail: lwood [at]