• Biogeography;
  • ecoregional planning;
  • gap analysis;
  • global assessments;
  • marine protected areas;
  • marine reserves;
  • no-take zones;
  • priority-setting


Marine conservation lags behind terrestrial in the establishment of protected areas. This was recognized by the Convention on Biological Diversity, whose members, in 2004, agreed to establish “comprehensive, effectively managed, and ecologically representative” systems of marine protected areas (MPAs) by 2012. Halfway toward this target date, we look at the coverage of the world's 5045 MPAs from a biogeographic perspective. Only 4.09% of continental shelf areas are incorporated within MPAs, although coverage rises to 12.1% in a narrow coastal belt. Approximately half of all marine ecoregions have less than 1% MPA coverage across the shelf, but this is highly variable, and (8%) of ecoregions have >30% protection. Protection is greatest in the tropical realms, while temperate realms remain poorly represented. Given that that many sites lack effective management, even these low estimates of coverage are an optimistic measure of the extent of effective marine conservation.