What We Learned: Marine Protected Areas Work in Conserving Coral Reefs

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Managing marine resources is a challenge for communities around the globe. On the Global Reef Expedition, we had the opportunity to visit protected and unprotected reefs in both remote locations and those regularly used by humans. The degree of protection varied, but we found that areas with the highest protection had the healthiest reefs.

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are a tool commonly used by governments and communities to manage their marine resources. An MPA can have varying degrees of regulations, including no-take and no-entry where no fishing is allowed and entrance into the park is not permitted, to varying permitted use that regulate the fishing and use practices. Some of the countries we visited, such as Australia (Northern Great Barrier Reef), Palau, and New Caledonia have large human populations utilizing the reefs and have prioritized establishing large protected and managed areas to conserve their nearshore reef systems.

Coral Conservation: A new episode of “Our Living Oceans” on EarthxTV

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What are marine protected areas, and how can they help protect our coral reefs? Where are they working, and what makes them effective? Find out in the latest episode of “Our Living Oceans,” Coral Conservation, now playing on EarthxTV.

We are all connected to the world’s oceans. The oceans are a critical source of food, income, and even oxygen for the entire planet. Therefore, global threats to the health of these oceans are something that affects us all.

In this episode, we talk to the world’s leading experts on marine conservation, including those who participated in our Global Reef Expedition, about the importance of marine protected areas (MPAs) and how they are used to preserve coral reefs—before it is too late.

The Last Great Coral Reef Wilderness

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The Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation led a research mission to study reefs in the last great coral reef wilderness on Earth, traveling to the Chagos Archipelago in 2015 as part of the Global Reef Expedition. This scientific research mission circumnavigated the globe to address the coral reef crisis and gain a better understanding of the health and resiliency of coral reefs in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. Over the course of two months at sea, scientists aboard the Global Reef Expedition conducted thousands of surveys of the benthic and reef fish communities at over 100 locations across the Chagos Archipelago. Only a handful of research missions have had the opportunity to explore the reefs of Chagos, and some of the reefs visited on the Expedition had never been surveyed by scientists before.

One priority for the Global Reef Expedition was to study reefs with minimal human disturbance, and there was no better place on Earth to do that than the Chagos Archipelago. Some estimates indicate these reefs could contain more than half of the healthy reefs remaining in the Indian Ocean. Because of its remote location and protected status, Chagos was the perfect place to explore global issues such as climate change and overfishing that threaten the long-term survival of coral reefs. By studying these relatively pristine reefs, the scientists wanted to add to their knowledge about the coral reef crisis, and were eager to see how coral reefs could thrive without the impacts of these other major disturbances.


The Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation produces high-resolution coral reef habitat maps of previously unmapped, remote coral reef systems around the world. The maps we create are a product of extensive scientific research. We use a process that involves …