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Nature. 2014 Feb 13;506(7487):216-20. doi: 10.1038/nature13022. Epub 2014 Feb 5.

Global conservation outcomes depend on marine protected areas with five key features.

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Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, GPO Box 252-49, Hobart, Tasmania 7001, Australia.
Institute of Marine Sciences, School of Biological Sciences, University of Portsmouth, Ferry Road, Portsmouth PO4 9LY, UK.
1] Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, GPO Box 252-49, Hobart, Tasmania 7001, Australia [2] Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Kräftriket 2B, SE-106 91 Stockholm, Sweden.
School of Plant Science, University of Tasmania, GPO Box 252, Hobart, Tasmania 7001, Australia.
Charles Darwin Foundation, Puerto Ayora, Galapagos, Ecuador.
The Bites Lab, Natural Products and Agrobiology Institute (IPNA-CSIC), 38206 La Laguna, Tenerife, Spain.
Elwandle Node, South African Environmental Observation network, Private Bag 1015, Grahamstown 6140, South Africa.
Wildlife Conservation Society, Indonesia Marine Program, Jalan Atletik No. 8, Bogor Jawa Barat 16151, Indonesia.
Department of Water, Perth, Western Australia 6000, Australia.
Facultad de Recursos Naturales, Escuela de Ciencias del Mar, Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Valparaıso, Valparaıso, Chile.
Centro Nacional Patagonico, Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Cientificas y Tecnicas, Bvd Brown 2915, 9120 Puerto Madryn, Argentina.
Channel Islands National Park, United States National Park Service, 1901 Spinnaker Dr., Ventura, California 93001, USA.
Instituto de Biologia, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Av. Carlos Chagas Filho 373, Rio de Janeiro 21941-902, Brazil.
Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, Mail Code 0227, 9500 Gilman Dr., La Jolla, California 92093-0227, USA.
Leigh Marine Laboratory, University of Auckland, 160 Goat Island Road, Leigh 0985, New Zealand.
Dipartimento di Scienze Biologiche, Geologiche ed Ambientali, Università di Bologna, Via San Alberto, Ravenna 163-48123, Italy.


In line with global targets agreed under the Convention on Biological Diversity, the number of marine protected areas (MPAs) is increasing rapidly, yet socio-economic benefits generated by MPAs remain difficult to predict and under debate. MPAs often fail to reach their full potential as a consequence of factors such as illegal harvesting, regulations that legally allow detrimental harvesting, or emigration of animals outside boundaries because of continuous habitat or inadequate size of reserve. Here we show that the conservation benefits of 87 MPAs investigated worldwide increase exponentially with the accumulation of five key features: no take, well enforced, old (>10 years), large (>100 km(2)), and isolated by deep water or sand. Using effective MPAs with four or five key features as an unfished standard, comparisons of underwater survey data from effective MPAs with predictions based on survey data from fished coasts indicate that total fish biomass has declined about two-thirds from historical baselines as a result of fishing. Effective MPAs also had twice as many large (>250 mm total length) fish species per transect, five times more large fish biomass, and fourteen times more shark biomass than fished areas. Most (59%) of the MPAs studied had only one or two key features and were not ecologically distinguishable from fished sites. Our results show that global conservation targets based on area alone will not optimize protection of marine biodiversity. More emphasis is needed on better MPA design, durable management and compliance to ensure that MPAs achieve their desired conservation value.

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