Marine Protection Atlas Methodology

At, we take the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA) data as a starting point and examine the marine protected areas (MPAs) in depth, adding to or replacing WDPA records with information from original research using more detailed or up-to-date sources, such as national or regional databases, official documentation, or management plans.

These additions can include more accurate spatial data, such as the addition of boundaries for individual zones within an MPA. It can also include more detailed information about site regulations and management, both of which are directly related to conservation outcomes.

Our MPA coverage numbers differ from those of other sources for two primary reasons:


We attempt to identify and distinguish protected areas that are legally designated but are still awaiting implementation from those that are fully in effect on the water where they count. We also identify committed or proposed protected areas that have not yet achieved legal or authoritative recognition.


We report MPA coverage data by protection level as a subset of total coverage, as no-take and fully and highly protected areas are those which afford the greatest conservation benefits. We do this by conducting detailed assessments using widely-accepted, scientifically-based criteria for measuring an MPA’s protection level and associated conservation outcomes. Learn more about MPA assessments here.

By taking a more detailed approach to MPA data, our coverage data and statistical reports provide a more nuanced look at progress toward conservation goals and the outcomes we can expect from existing protections.

Data sets used to calculate regional and country-level coverage:

Country and territory exclusive economic zonesFlanders Marine Institute (2019). Maritime Boundaries Geodatabase, version 11.
Available online at
Contact Uslast updated: 2021-06-08© 2020 Marine Conservation Institute