The recent increase in establishment of large marine protected areas (LMPAs), has brought international conservation goals, including the Convention of Biological Diversity’s Aichi Target 11 and the Sustainable Development Goal 14.5, within reach, at least in terms of coverage, but has also led to much debate about their contribution to biodiversity conservation.

This article provides the first quantification of the potential contribution of LMPAs to marine biodiversity conservation now and under a climate change scenario by assessing their overlap with all marine species for which modelled distribution data exist. The obtained results are used to identify five key recommendations to improve the long-term representation of all species and assist in meeting key global policy goals.

The assessment found that LMPAs have a higher potential conservation value than might be expected by area alone. LMPAs cover 4.4% of the ocean, yet capture 83.3% of some portion of species ranges; of these, 26.9% had at least 10% of their range represented, and this was projected to increase to 40.1% in 2100. However, the authors state that gaps remain, and the global set of LMPAs has not been identified in a coordinated, systematic fashion.

The authors suggest that this representation of LMPAs could be improved through using best practices in systematic conservation planning, and provide 5 key recommendations that should be employed to identify new LMPAs in order to improve their long-term conservation benefits: 1) provide protection for species currently under-represented, 2) explicitly consider climate change, 3) represent species with varying distributions, 3) explicitly consider threats in priority setting processes, 4) move from opportunistic to systematic identification of LMPAs, and 5) effective and equitable management of LMPAs.

Davies TE, Maxwell SM, Kaschner K, Garilao C, Ban NC (2017) Large marine protected areas represent biodiversity now and under climate change. Scientific Reports 7:9569