The benefits to people of expanding Marine Protected Areas

In response to increasing degradation of the marine environment and declining provision of ecosystem services, several international policy fora as well as locally run initiatives have called for and initiated the development of marine protected areas (MPAs).

06/02/2015 | 12:51 PM

An MPA is a clearly defined geographical space, recognized, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values. MPAs may be organized in networks to enhance conservation and other objectives through cooperation and synergies. A MPA network approach is likely to yield more benefits for species, habitats and humans than the sum of its parts.  

Currently, about 3.4% of marine area globally is designated as MPA, with only 0.6% established as no-take MPAs. This low level of protection contrasts with international targets calling for the global expansion of networks of MPAs such as the Durban Action Plan and the Convention on Biological Diversity, Aichi Target 11. The most recent international target on MPA networks was confirmed at the World Park Congress in 2014 stating that MPA networks should protect 30% of each habitat in our oceans. 

A groundbreaking study under the supervision of the Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM) of the VU University shows that expanding the coverage of MPAs to 30% globally is expected to generate major economic benefits that significantly outweigh the costs. This holds true under a range of scenarios for no-take MPAs to cover 10-30% of marine and coastal areas with varying degrees of biodiversity and human pressures. The net benefits of increasing protection to 30% range from the most conservative estimate of US$490 billion and 150,000 full-time jobs in MPA management, to the most optimistic estimate of US$920 billion and over 180,000 jobs by 2050. It is clear that MPAs provide a useful pathway to investing in sustainable blue economies.  

MPA graph

Note: The study simulates six scenarios that vary in terms of biodiversity levels and human impact criteria. The Figure shows two of the six scenarios resulting in the highest and the lowest Net Present Value. The “easy to expand – 30%” scenario assumes a 30% MPA expansion in areas that have relatively low biodiversity and low impacts of human activities. The “Protect to Preserve – 30%” scenario assumes a 30% MPA expansion in areas with high biodiversity levels and a protection that preserves the area from potential future impact. All monetary values are expressed as present values computed over the period 2015-2050 using a discount rate of 3% in USD at 2013 price levels.

Contact persons:

Pieter van Beukering ( & Luke Brander (





This study was commissioned by the Ministry of Economic Affairs of the Netherlands and the World Wide Fund for Nature, Netherlands