What are marine protected areas ?

A marine protected area (“MPA”) is “a clearly defined geographical area, formally recognized, dedicated and managed through legal or other effective means, aiming to ensure the long-term conservation of nature, and of the ecosystem’s services and cultural values associated to it”.(1)

According to the IUCN, a “marine protected area” cannot be considered as “protected” if industrial extractive activities (including fishing) are conducted there or if industrial infrastructures are developed.(2) Therefore, a broadly defined marine protected area prohibits industrial activities but allows artisanal fishing.


The ocean and marine ecosystems are at the heart of the fight against global warming.

  • The ocean absorbs more than 25% of our greenhouse gas emissions and is the main regulator of our planet’s climate.(3)
  • The ocean captures more than 90% of the excess heat generated by human activities.(4)
  • The ocean thus acts as a thermostat for the planet, but global climate change threatens its ability to fulfill this function as effectively in the future.

To destroy the ocean is to condemn us collectively.


In the absence of extractive human activities, marine protected areas enable a spectacular regeneration of marine ecosystems and species:

  • Fish biomasses in marine reserves are on average 670% higher than in surrounding unprotected waters!(5)
  • This regeneration creates a spillover phenomenon with marine populations spreading outside the protected area, thus contributing to the recovery of biodiversity and marine ecosystems.


By protecting the ocean, MPAs also protect fishing.

  • MPAs with a high level of protection (strong or full protection) can “increase the productivity of the fishing zones around the protected area through the proliferation of adults and larvae […] including in overfished areas.”(6)
  • According to Eric Sala, explorer and conservationist at National Geographic, “In the assumption that there would be a total displacement of fishing effort, strategically placed marine areas covering 28% of the ocean could increase the supply of marine food resources by 5.9 million tons per year compared to a business-as-usual scenario with no additional protection and undiminished fishing pressure.”(7)


(1) Day et al., “Guidelines for applying the IUCN protected area management categories to marine protected areas”, 2019. Available at: https://portals.iucn.org/library/sites/library/files/documents/PAG-019-2nd%20ed.-En.pdf

(2) Ibid.

(3) Pörtner, Hans-Otto, et al. “The ocean and cryosphere in a changing climate.” IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (2019).

(4) Ibid.

(5) Enric Sala and Sylvaine Giakoumi. “No-take marine reserves are the most effective protected areas in the ocean.” ICES Journal of Marine Science 75.3 (2018): 1166-1168.

(6) IUCN « Les Zones de protection forte en mer, état des lieux et recommandations ». 2021. Available at: https://uicn.fr/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/rapport_final_zpf-070921.pdf

(7) Ibid.

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