In March 2018 Brazil’s government announced two sets of large marine protected areas (MPAs) in the open ocean. The total coverage of MPAs under Brazilian national jurisdiction will rise sharply from 1.5 to 25%.

This letter discusses on the planning and potential effectiveness of these large MPAs.

The authors state that although these new MPAs presented an opportunity to make progress toward biological priorities, the decision-making progress instead reflected uninformed opportunism. And underline that rather that meeting conservation goals, the proposed MPAs exemplify poor adherence to best practices in MPA planning in three ways:

  • Large no-take MPAs, i.e. those that prohibit fishing and mining, were designated in areas where these activities are already unlikely or rare, rather than placed where they would be most useful to conservation. While shallow seamounts with vulnerable habitats will remain unprotected or within multiple-use zones.
  • These MPAs fail to account for spatial dependencies between areas to ensure that they achieve their core ecological objective: the maintenance of biodiversity over time. For example, population persistence on the protected deep seamounts will depend largely upon larvae transported from unprotected seamounts closer to the continental shelf.
  • Designing MPAs in the open ocean to regulate fishing of mobile pelagic species has long been considered a challenge for conservation planning. MPAs should encompass the home range and territory of adults of targeted species. The authors state that the size of the new Brazilian MPAs would not meet the requirements for species that display high mobility. The success of remote MPAs in managing pelagic species also depends greatly on compliance, which require substantial resources devoted to enforcement. But the authors write that funding of management in already-established Brazilian MPAs is known to be inadequate.

The authors conclude that large MPAs can be flagships for meeting global conservation aspirations yet still fail to contribute to marine conservation, giving a false sense of conservation achievement and encourage Brazilian authorities to embrace biodiversity values as they work to meet policy targets.

Magris RA, Pressey RL (2018) Marine protected areas: Just for show? Science 360:723-724