Marine Conservation at the Scale of Large Marine Ecosystem:

Encouraging Representative Networks of Marine protected Areas


Scott Atkinson



Simon Cripps2

WWF International



The world’s marine systems are literally under siege from over-harvesting, destructive fishing practices, coastal development, sedimentation, and other anthropogenic threats. Furthermore, the recent mass coral bleaching and its linkage to climate change has highlighted the destructive power of natural events and the human role in exacerbating those events. The continuing decline of marine systems strongly indicates that existing marine management approaches are insufficient to ensure long-term persistence of marine biodiversity, resources, and ecosystem processes. This insufficiency calls for the immediate and exponential expansion of marine conservation activity and innovation.

Striving to address continued declines in marine systems, WWF is increasingly pursuing and encouraging the collaborative management of Large Marine Ecosystems as ecologically integrated units. The ultimate goal of Large Marine Ecosystem or Marine Ecoregion management is the maintenance and restoration of marine systems such that ecological integrity, biodiversity, and ecosystem dynamics persist into perpetuity. WWF and our partners are currently facilitating Marine Ecoregion Conservation efforts in several areas of the world including Asia/Pacific, Latin America, Africa, and Europe. Other conservation practitioners including NGOs, Governments, and Multilateral Development Agencies are following similar approaches, recognising the urgency of moving beyond isolated conservation activities to integrated systems approaches.

In pursuing Marine Ecoregion management, WWF has developed and is piloting a collaborative methodology for prioritising and facilitating conservation action at the scale of the Marine Ecoregion. This methodology includes both detailed biological prioritisation to support the development of networks of ecologically representative marine protected areas and policy and socioeconomic intervention to support development of environmentally responsible resource use regimes outside of protected areas. In essence, we seek to establish Networks of Protection in a Sea of Sustainability. This approach is meeting with increasing interest and support from critical stakeholders and has numerous implications for long-term marine conservation management policy and practice. This paper provides an overview of the Marine Ecoregion Conservation Approach and summarises critical policy and practice interfaces that must be developed to support this innovative and optimistic approach to marine conservation.