top of page
Follow us on social Media_ (5).png

Marine Areas of Consensus and Opportunity

In 2019 the paper “Gaps in protection of important ocean areas: a spatial meta-analysis of ten global mapping initiatives” was published in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science, co-authored by Dr. Natasha Gownaris (IOCS alum);  Dr. Ellen Pikitch, Christine Santora, and John Davis (Octo)


The need for such a study arose during the 2016 Rome Conference on Marine Protected Areas where attending diplomats explicitly called for the scientific community to “Map and describe areas where MPAs are especially needed and prioritize protection of vulnerable species and the highest consideration to both biodiversity distribution and ecosystem functioning.” The Italian Ministry of the Environment recognized the importance of this work and provided financial support for the study. 

Study Methods and Results

Our study was the first to synthesize ten internationally recognized maps depicting global marine priority areas. These areas were identified by the United Nations agencies or nongovernmental organizations as being important for their biodiversity, threatened or vulnerable species, or relatively natural state. One of the strengths of this mapping exercise was to join together and display information from ten disparate sources.


Importantly, our study made clear where the various maps “agreed,” and showed that throughout the ocean, there are areas identified as important by multiple science-based efforts. 


Further, we conducted a gap analysis. In this step, we overlapped protected area coverage onto the results map-- showing where global priority areas overlap with current protected areas. 


The analysis revealed areas of marine importance that could be good candidates for new MPAs and provides some guidance for individual countries seeking to achieve conservation targets by protecting areas of high value. 

Image by LI FEI

Key Takeaways of the Study 

  • Over 55% of the ocean was identified as important by at least one mapping effort. Nearly 60% is within a national jurisdiction and the other 40% is in the high seas.

  • Over 14% of the ocean was identified as important by between 2-4 of the studies included in the analysis; nearly 90% of this area was unprotected as of the date of publication. 

  • The largest important yet unprotected areas were located in the Caribbean Sea, Madagascar and the southern tip of Africa, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Coral Triangle.

  • 75% of all exclusive economic zones protect less than 10% of their identified priority areas. 

  • The Galapagos Islands and surrounding region stood out as the part of the ocean with the greatest level of consensus of importance among the initiatives examined.  Subsequently, in 2022, Ecuador implemented the expansion of the protected area around the Galapagos by 60,000 square kilometers, half of which will be fully protected to safeguard wildlife and migratory areas. 


Our Results Map is Online!


IOCS’s Maria Grima, our in-house GIS expert, converted the static study results into an online platform for detailed viewing. See below, or view in a new window here.

Press Coverage


Ellen Pikitch, left, with Christine Santora, right, conducting fieldwork. Photo by Peter Thompson, 2015.


bottom of page