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Reef fishes swimming scattered.

OSU marine biologists lead global project to optimize, evaluate marine protected areas

By Steve Lundeberg

Reef fishes, photo by Enric Sala, Nat Geo Pristine Seas

Led by Oregon State University researchers, more than three dozen scientists from around the globe have produced a guide to help nations better plan, evaluate and monitor marine protected areas set aside to safeguard ecosystems and support a healthy ocean.

“The MPA Guide: A Framework to Achieve Global Goals for the Ocean," published today in Science, is the culmination of decades of work by hundreds of scientists and stakeholders and establishes a structure for “an evidence-based understanding of where we stand on ocean protection,” said Kirsten Grorud-Colvert, the lead author.

“The benefits from marine protected areas are key for our future,” said Grorud-Colvert, associate professor of integrative biology. “The MPA Guide provides, for the first time, a way to track those benefits using a unified structure, shared language and consistent approach. With this clarity, we can monitor our global progress and identify the science-based actions required. We need to ensure marine protected areas are set up for success in combating the devastating consequences of human overuse, including the loss of biodiversity we need for healthy ecosystems and human well-being.”

Forty-two marine scientists — experts in natural science, social science and policy – from 38 institutions on six continents came together to create the MPA Guide. The guide categorizes each area in one of four levels of protection – fully, highly, lightly or minimally protected – tracks whether planned protections have been activated, details the important social and ecological conditions that make an MPA successful, and determines the benefits a given MPA is likely to deliver.

Two years ago at the annual Our Ocean Conference, an analysis led by Grorud-Colvert and OSU colleague Jane Lubchenco, now on league serving as deputy director for climate and environment in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, outlined recommended actions for world leaders making ocean protection commitments. The Our Ocean Conference was established in 2014 under the leadership of John Kerry, then the U.S. Secretary of State, and brings together global leaders of governments, industry, youth and civil society to tackle problems that threaten the health of the ocean.

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