Life in the oceans is essential to life on Earth. Oceans moderate our climate, generate half the oxygen we breathe and are a major source of protein in our diets. They are critical to our survival and prosperity and yet, overfishing and other human-caused threats jeopardize biodiversity, fisheries, tourism and other industries dependent upon healthy oceans. If we do not take immediate action, we face a mass extinction of marine life that will have a profound impact on our lives and livelihoods.

This doesn't have to happen. Marine protected areas, or MPAs, are one of the most effective ways to recover and restore ocean life. Like parks on land, MPAs are places in the ocean which have been recognized as important for conservation because of their value to marine ecosystems. But not all MPAs are created equal – the level of protection provided can vary wildly and some are so lenient that they barely restrict any activity that harms ocean health. By strongly protecting critical areas that represent the diversity of life in the seas, we can prevent catastrophe and ensure vibrant, abundant oceans for generations to come.

A Roadmap to Protect Ocean Life

Protected Tiles v4_sm.pngEven with multiple governments, international coalitions and nonprofit organizations working to establish MPAs, progress has been too slow to make a meaningful difference for ocean life. Less than 2% of oceans are protected in MPAs, far less than the 13% of land under protection. More importantly, only half of the area in MPAs is designated as “no-take” reserves, which provides the strongest level of protection. Many of the most important and vulnerable ecosystems are not yet protected and others are vastly underrepresented. We have a long way to go.

Marine Conservation Institute realized that the world needed a tool to provide real-time information on current and proposed MPAs and their effectiveness in protecting marine life. Last year we launched a new service that we believe will fill this need:, an online resource that provides the most up-to-date information on marine protected areas.

Thanks to the vision and generous support of the Waitt Foundation, we began working in 2011 to compile the information needed to create a robust database and interactive map that are integral components of MPAtlas. A prototype website was launched in February 2012. After months of testing and evaluation, MPAtlas was updated in December 2012.

Advancing MPAtlas

Currently, visitors to the website can locate and learn about individual MPAs. This is just the beginning. We have big plans that will take MPAtlas to a new level of usability and accessibility. For example, many nations and regions have set goals for the number of MPAs they want to establish. MPAtlas will track progress in achieving those goals. We are creating tools that will allow users to pull and analyze data by a variety of social, political and ecological factors. We will make the site more dynamic by incorporating social media and providing opportunities to share personal experiences. With increased functionality and improved features, MPAtlas will be the most comprehensive, easy-to-use resource for ocean advocates, marine scientists, decision-makers, educators and anyone interested in learning about ocean conservation.

Marine Conservation Institute has incorporated MPAtlas into our own efforts to advocate for marine protected areas. Last year we released SeaStates 2013, our ground-breaking report that ranks coastal US states by the percentage of their waters in strongly protected, no-take marine reserves. The findings were bleak: only three states and territories – Hawaii, California and the US Virgin Islands – protect more than 5% of their marine waters as no-take reserves, a few states protect roughly 1% or less, and fifteen states do not yet strongly protect any of their marine waters. MPAtlas was critical to the creation of SeaStates 2013, providing the majority of data used in our analyses. We plan to update this report and expand it to include other nations in the future.

MPAtlas will also play an important role in a new Marine Conservation Institute initiative, the Global Ocean Refuge System or GLORES. GLORES is a visionary approach to saving marine biodiversity. Its goal is a network of strongly protected areas in every region of the ocean. In a world experiencing unprecedented change, GLORES will be the safety net that ensures the survival of ocean life. To move forward, we must know where we are and where we’ve been. MPAtlas is the roadmap to help the marine conservation community decide where to focus future conservation efforts and to track our progress.

Marine Conservation Institute is dedicated to maintaining and recovering healthy, living oceans now and for generations to come. We work with scientists, legislators, government officials and ocean advocates around the world to protect essential ocean places and the wild species in them. Your support for MPAtlas and Marine Conservation Institute helps protect the special places where marine life thrives.

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