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A diverse portfolio of marine protected areas can better advance global conservation and equity

David A. Gill, Sarah E. Lester, Christopher M. Free, Alexander Pfaff, Edwin Iversen, Brian J. Reich, Shu Yang, Gabby Ahmadia, Dominic A. Andradi-Brown, Emily S. Darling, Graham J. Edgar, Helen E. Fox, Jonas Geldmann, Duong Trung Lea, Michael B. Mascia, Roosevelt Mesa-Gutiérrez, Peter J. Mumby, Laura Veverka, and Laura M. Warmuth
Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 121 (2024)

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Marine protected areas (MPAs) are widely used for ocean conservation, yet the relative impacts of various types of MPAs are poorly understood. We estimated impacts on fish biomass from no-take and multiple-use (fished) MPAs, employing a rigorous matched counterfactual design with a global dataset of >14,000 surveys in and around 216 MPAs. Both no-take and multiple-use MPAs generated positive conservation outcomes relative to no protection (58.2% and 12.6% fish biomass increases, respectively), with smaller estimated differences between the two MPA types when controlling for additional confounding factors (8.3% increase). Relative performance depended on context and management: no-take MPAs performed better in areas of high human pressure but similar to multiple-use in remote locations. Multiple-use MPA performance was low in high-pressure areas but improved significantly with better management, producing similar outcomes to no-take MPAs when adequately staffed and appropriate use regulations were applied. For priority conservation areas where no-take restrictions are not possible or ethical, our findings show that a portfolio of well-designed and well-managed multiple-use MPAs represents a viable and potentially equitable pathway to advance local and global conservation.