Researchers from the Future of Marine Animal Populations (FMAP) project of the Census of Marine Life have concluded that of the 18.7% of coral reef habitats that are contained within marine protected areas (MPAs) worldwide, less than 2% are afforded adequate protection to prevent further degradation. This is largely due to insufficient legislation and enforcement preventing species harvest, poaching, and other destructive uses. Even more disturbing is the fact that most inadequately protected coral reef habitats tend to be in regions that support the highest biodiversity, such as the Indo-Pacific and the Caribbean.
While MPAs do exist in most regions of the world that support coral reefs, the quality of these protected areas varies greatly. Attributes such as the size of the MPA, its isolation, and the regulations that protect it, all contribute to a region's ability to actually conserve these fragile habitats. Unfortunately, the analysis reveals that not one regional MPA network across the globe has more than 10% of its coral reef resources protected within MPAs of sufficient quality to effectively conserve them. When analyzed from the point of view of potential effectiveness in conserving coral reef biodiversity, researchers have concluded that the global MPA network is troublingly insufficient.
This study discovered many discrepancies between the quality of effort and the quantity of effort aimed at minimizing biodiversity loss in coral reef habitat. With coral reefs in decline worldwide, the need for appropriate conservation measures has never been more critical. While the major focus of MPAs worldwide is the reduction of human pressure on the ecosystem, many of these remain as "multiple use" protected areas that still allow harvesting and other potentially destructive activities to take place. Despite this condition, researchers claim that even if all MPAs globally were effective, the sheer volume of coral reef habitat protected would still be insufficient to ensure the conservation of coral reef biodiversity. In light of this, this study recommends that MPAs and the conservation strategies that they support be immediately re-evaluated on a global scale.