There is a global call to increase the coverage of marine protected areas (MPAs) from 10% to at least 30% by 2030. France, a major actor for marine conservation with the second largest exclusive economic zone in the world, with territories in all Ocean basins but the Artic, aims at reaching the 30% by 2022, for which one third shall include a strong protection status.

According to this study, the strategy to reach this twofold target faces two challenges. First, while some standards exist to classify the levels of protection, France is currently using a case specific, loose approach to define strong protection. Second, there is no criteria that addresses the representativeness of the protection across French Ocean basins.

This research assessed the protection levels of the 524 French MPAs and their distribution across territories and habitats. It was found that, while 33.7% of France’s waters are covered by an MPA, 12.5% of these areas do not impose regulations stronger inside than outside. Full and high levels of protection, the most effective for biodiversity conservation, represent only 1.6% of French waters and are unevenly distributed across Ocean basins and habitats, with 80.5% concentrated in a single territory.

The authors conclude that it is critical that France’s high ambition is both qualitatively and quantitatively deployed in each Ocean basin to protect our Ocean, its biodiversity and to sustain the livelihood of millions of people.

Claudet et al. (2021) Critical gaps in the protection of the second largest exclusive economic zone in the world. Marine Policy 124: 104379.