Contact: Haley Williams,

NEW YORK (Sept. 20, 2023) -- As global marine biodiversity continues to decline, efforts to curb and reverse such losses and conserve our oceans are growing. 

In December 2022, nearly 200 governments committed to protect at least 30 percent of the planet by 2030 as part of the new Global Biodiversity Framework. If “30x30” is successful, by 2030 the area of ocean that is protected will be 11 times the size of the United States. Yet, our understanding of the biodiversity impacts of protected areas and other managed areas has been limited until now. A new WCS-led study has found strong conservation outcomes for coastal ecosystems like coral reefs associated with both traditional protected areas and locally managed areas.

While formally protected areas have well-recognized biodiversity benefits, they can be inadequate if they do not align with the needs and values of local communities. To achieve effective and equitable long-term conservation on the road to 30x30, areas outside formally protected areas are being recognized in the conservation portfolio, including areas with local management by communities.

The new study comes from a WCS-led Science for Nature and People Partnership (SNAPP) working group, and is out now in the journal Conservation Biology. Researchers worked with 126 communities from six coral reef countries and measured when conservation outcomes were achieved (e.g., more fish living on coral reefs) and how they were related to different types of managed areas. Both formally protected areas and areas managed by communities outside formal government protection showed benefits for biodiversity. Compared to areas with no management at all, managed areas were the clear winner.

This is one of the most detailed studies to show that diverse types of managed areas can have measurable outcomes for coral reef biodiversity and the human communities that depend on them, including areas that could be formally recognized as other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs). These findings highlight that protecting marine ecosystems doesn’t stop at measuring the square miles or kilometers of protection. Measuring actual conservation outcomes, using indicators such as how many fish are in the area, is the only way we can truly assess the biodiversity impact of our efforts to manage and protect our oceans.

“Our study provides important evidence as to what contributes to positive conservation outcomes for coral reefs,” observed the University of Victoria’s Natalie Ban, lead author of the study. “It also suggests where we need to improve so that all areas are delivering benefits for conservation.”

“We know that management is useful for and important to achieving biodiversity outcomes for coastal communities and our oceans,” said Stacy Jupiter, Melanesia Regional Director with the Wildlife Conservation Society and one of the study’s coauthors. “But, this study also shows how important it is for us to measure the actual impact of management, rather than just counting areas as successful because they have been designated as a protected area.”

Coauthor Georgina Gurney of James Cook University explained: “A logical next step from our finding that diverse types of managed areas can contribute to safeguarding biodiversity – but what are the conditions under which these different kinds of management work best? Management that is fit to context, including meeting the aspirations of local people, is what is needed for effective and equitable conservation.” 

SNAPP (Science for Nature and People Partnership)

The Science for Nature and People Partnership (SNAPP) Coastal Outcomes working group was led by WCS and brought together researchers and experts from nearly 40 institutions. SNAPP is a partnership of The Nature Conservancy and WCS. The SNAPP working group and WCS teams who conducted this study wish to acknowledge and thank the David and Lucile Packard Foundation for addressing the theme of Oceans, Climate, and Equity and their generosity through continued cohort funding. Data collection was supported by grants to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) from donors including the Blue Action Fund, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and The Tiffany & Co. Foundation.