Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are conservation tools intended to protect biodiversity, promote healthy and resilient marine ecosystems, and provide societal benefits. Despite codification of MPAs in international agreements, MPA effectiveness is currently undermined by confusion about the many MPA types and consequent wildly differing outcomes. We present a clarifying science-driven framework—The MPA Guide—to aid design and evaluation. The guide categorizes MPAs by stage of establishment and level of protection, specifies the resulting direct and indirect outcomes for biodiversity and human well-being, and describes the key conditions necessary for positive outcomes. Use of this MPA Guide by scientists, managers, policy-makers, and communities can improve effective design, implementation, assessment, and tracking of existing and future MPAs to achieve conservation goals by using scientifically grounded practices.
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