Bolder science needed now for protected areas

TurtleRecognising that protected areas are essential for effective biodiversity conservation action, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) established ambitious protected-area targets as part of the 2020 Strategic Plan for Biodiversity. Target 11 of the strategic plan aims to put 17% of terrestrial and 10% of marine regions under protected-area status by 2020. These protected areas are required to be of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well connected, and to include ‘other effective area-based conservation measures’ (OECMs).

While the area-based targets are explicit and measurable, the lack of guidance on the terms (i) ‘important’ and ‘representative’; (ii) ‘effective’; and (iii) OECMs makes it difficult to know how nations are implementing the target. There is a real risk that Target 11 may be achieved in terms of area while failing the overall strategic goal for which it is established, because the areas are poorly located, inadequately managed, or based on unjustifiable inclusion of OECMs.

James Watson and colleagues argue that the conservation-science community can help by:

(i) establishing ecologically-sensible protected-area targets to help prioritize important biodiversity areas and achieve ecological representation;

(ii) identify clear, comparable performance metrics of ecological effectiveness so we can assess progress toward these targets; and

(iii) identify metrics and report on the contribution OECMs make towards the target.

By providing ecologically-sensible targets and new performance metrics for measuring the effectiveness of both protected areas and OECMs, the science community can actively ensure that the achievement of the required area in Target 11 is not simply an end in itself, but generates genuine benefits for biodiversity.


Watson JEM, ES Darling, O Venter, M Maron, J Walston, HP Possingham, N Dudley, M Hockings, M Barnes & TM Brooks (2015). Bolder science needed now for protected areas. Conservation Biology DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12645,

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