Marine protected areas (MPAs) are playing a central role in the achievement of ocean sustainability and, since 2000, their global coverage has increased over ten times. The success of MPAs, and therefore the delivery of their potential outcomes for human well-being and global sustainability, requires multi-disciplinary, holistic, and comprehensive approaches for its achievement.

In this study, the global scientific literature on MPAs was quantitatively reviewed through bibliometrics approaches, investigating patterns and trends in its development over time. The bibliographic search on the Scopus and Web of Science databases resulted in a total number of 5908 and 6036 scientific documents published on MPAs.

It is highlighted that the network analysis of the keywords co-occurrence showed a multidisciplinary structure of MPA science, in which the ecological, social, and economic domains of research are strongly interlinked. Temporal analyses showed a recent focus on topics related to the social-ecological systems theory suggesting that newer research lines recognize the importance of integrating the “human dimension” in conservation and sustainability studies.

It is concluded that MPA research is timely responding to the identification of MPAs as ocean sustainability tools, opening MPA science to multi-disciplinary research lines by linking the ecological and socio-economic dimensions of sustainability. MPA research is expected to play a crucial role in generating the interdisciplinary scientific knowledge needed to fully contribute to global ocean sustainability and human well-being.

Picone et al. (2020) Exploring the development of scientific research on Marine Protected Areas: from conservation to global ocean sustainability. Ecological Informatics 61: 101200.