Best practice

The IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas has produced a document that represents a synthesis of the expertise, knowledge and views of world-leading experts in marine protected area network design and implementation. The following elements of best practice have been drawn from this document. To maximise its effectiveness, a network needs to include a group of marine protected areas that are carefully designed to function collectively and synergistically as an ecological network. This includes the following design considerations: 2737

  • Does the MPA network protect some of all the habitat types and habitats linked by species life cycle patterns found in a biogeographic region?
  • Does the MPA network include both transition zones between biogeographic areas and core zones within each biogeographic region?
  • Does the MPA network include representation of ecosystem processes as well as habitat types?
  • Does each MPA include a variety of depths and transition zones and areas which cover the life-stage movements of species?
  • Are the MPAs large enough to be effective, self-sustaining ecological units? Do they protect and maintain ecological processes such as nutrient flows and food-web interactions? Are they large enough for populations to be self-seeding?
  • Does the MPA network include replicates of each representative habitat? It is recommended that at a minimum three replicates of each habitat type should be included.
  • Does the MPA network include ecologically significant areas such as rocky reefs, oyster reefs, mussel beds, bryozoan reefs, salt marshes, seagrass beds and mangroves?
  • Does the MPA network include unique habitats?
  • Does the MPA network protect spawning aggregations of fish, egg sources and nursery areas?
  • Does the MPA network protect roosting sites, foraging grounds, socialising areas and migratory routes for marine mammals and seabirds?
  • Does the MPA protect source populations including larger, older individuals who have a greater reproductive capacity?
  • Are the MPAs spaced so that larvae from as many species as possible can reach other MPAs with appropriate habitat?
  • Are the MPAs in the network located so that they are connected by the exchange of eggs, larvae recruits, other propagules, juveniles and adults?
  • Are individual MPAs large enough to cover a range of movement patterns of adults, juvenile fish and invertebrates and to include larval dispersal distances?
  • Are MPAs located in a wide variety of places in relation to prevailing currents to facilitate larval dispersal?




  1. These design considerations have been synthesised from IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas (2008)

Last updated at 2:11PM on February 25, 2015