Progress on spatial conservation efforts in marine environments is often summarized with the simplistic metric of extent. However, targets require a more nuanced view, where ecological effectiveness, biodiversity, representation, connectivity and ecosystem services must all be recognized. Furthermore, these targets must be achieved through equitable processes and produce equitable outcomes.
This paper calls for a clearer definition of what is to be ‘counted’ in assessing progress in marine conservation, through the use of both traditionally defined marine protected areas and a limited subset of other equivalent areas. It calls for future effort to draw a clear distinction between non-extractive areas such as no-take marine reserves, and the more numerous extractive areas. To be considered protected, sites must be ecologically effective, and be equitably managed to support all stakeholders.
Spatial extent of coverage is only one constituent part of conservation effort, however, and much greater effort is needed to ensure that sites are selected to achieve optimum conservation outcomes for biodiversity and for ecosystem services. The paper reviews some of the existing views and approaches to defining and delimiting marine protection priorities.
It recommends that with a clearer set of metrics for defining protection, and for assessing progress and setting future targets, marine conservation will be better placed to achieve lasting outcomes, including halting biodiversity loss and securing or enhancing ecosystem service provision. Protected spaces will continue to play a major role in future oceans, but they also need to be configured within a wider spatial framework.