Marine Protection Atlas Methodology

The Marine Protection Atlas (MPAtlas) builds upon data reported to the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA) by applying science-based frameworks to independently categorize and report MPAs and MPA zones.

Created in 1981, the WDPA is the official catalog of marine and terrestrial protected areas, hosting the largest assembly of global protected areas self-reported by countries around the world. This dataset includes basic information such as location, area, spatial boundaries, governance type, and management authority. Through the application of peer-reviewed frameworks such as The MPA Guide1 and the Regulation-Based Classification System2 (RBCS), the MPAtlas team and our collaborators independently categorize and report MPAs based on their Stage of Establishment and Level of Protection. We apply these tools to assess the protection afforded by MPA regulations and identify the conservation outcomes they can expect to deliver for ocean biodiversity and all of us who depend on it.

More Frequently Asked Questions about MPAtlas can be found here.

Learn more about the differences between the MPAtlas and WDPA here.

Learn more about how the MPAtlas is operationalizing The MPA Guide here.

Each assessed MPA or MPA zone is linked to its corresponding geospatial data in the WDPA. In cases where MPAs are not yet reported to the WDPA or contain zones missing from the WDPA dataset, we add the geospatial data and link the assessments to those. This can cause discrepancies between our numbers and the numbers found in the WDPA reporting.

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


We report protected areas that are not only legally designated but are also fully implemented and providing conservation benefits on the water. We also track committed or proposed protected areas that have not yet achieved legal or authoritative recognition.


We report MPA coverage data by protection level. Specifically, we focus on fully and highly protected areas which afford the greatest conservation benefits.

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.

1 Grorud-Colvert, Kirsten, Jenna Sullivan-Stack, Callum Roberts, Vanessa Constant, Barbara Horta, Elizabeth P Pike, Naomi Kingston, et al. 2021. "The MPA Guide: A Framework to Achieve Global Goals for the Ocean" 1215 (September).

2 Horta e Costa, Bárbara, Joachim Claudet, Gustavo Franco, Karim Erzini, Anthony Caro, and Emanuel J. Gonçalves. 2016. "A Regulation-Based Classification System for Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)." Marine Policy 72: 192–98.

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

Country and territory exclusive economic zonesFlanders Marine Institute (2019). Maritime Boundaries Geodatabase, version 11.
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Contact Uslast updated: 2024-04-19© 2024 Marine Conservation Institute