Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are conservation tools intended to protect biodiversity, promote healthy and resilient marine ecosystems, and provide societal benefits. Despite codification of MPAs in international agreements, MPA effectiveness is currently undermined by confusion about the many MPA types and consequent wildly differing outcomes.

This review presents a clarifying science-based, policy-relevant framework – The MPA Guide – to categorize, evaluate, and plan MPAs.

The guide consists of four elements that define types of MPAs and activities, conditions for success, and likely outcomes. First, the stages of establishment of an MPA, from proposed to actively managed. Second, the levels of protection from abatable activities within an MPA, based on allowed activities. Third, conditions for effective and equitable MPA planning, design, governance, and management. And fourth, the likely outcomes of an MPA depend directly on stage, level and conditions to succeed.

The authors state that the MPA Guide enables smart planning, design, and evaluation of new or existing MPAs by informing decisions about scientific, societal, and policy priorities and facilitates evaluating progress on international conservation targets. It is highlighted that the guide draws attention to quality, not just quantity, of MPAs. It points to fully or highly protected areas as having the greatest likelihood of achieving biodiverse and healthy ecosystems, once the MPA is implemented or actively managed, if enabling conditions are in place.

It is concluded that the use of this guide by scientists, managers, policy-makers, and communities can improve effective design, implementation, assessment, and tracking of existing and future MPAs to achieve conservation goals by using scientifically grounded practices.

Grorud-Colvert et al. (2021) The MPA Guide: A framework to achieve global goals for the ocean. Science 373: eabf0861.