New Letter in Science: Expansion not enough to achieve protected areas conservation mission

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Aichi Target 11 calls for a substantial expansion in terrestrial and marine protected areas by 2020, but is it enough to conserve species? It is a fallacy that positive biodiversity outcomes naturally flow from increasing the number of PAs. Yet, simply meeting area targets for the global PA network is dangerously perceived as sufficient to stem the loss of biodiversity.but the change may not be sufficient to meet its intended conservation goals. While they can certainly be effective conservation tools (1), many are still failing to halt species decline (2).

All global and local conservation decisions must be underpinned by comprehensive and strategic evaluation of the tangible benefits of protected areas for species conservation.  Until then, we cannot know if the c.200,000 PAs worldwide are achieving their conservation mandate (Ferraro and Pattanayak 2006 PLOS Biol. 4(4):e105). Action to comprehensively and strategically implement systems to evaluate the tangible benefits of PAs – not simply inputs and outputs – for species conservation is essential to underpin decisions from global to local. Decisions must be underpinned by evidence, or we risk inequity, inefficiency, and inevitable decline.

Can we really afford the price of keeping the status quo? We argue no.

A new and forward-looking monitoring system (as well as sustainable financing) is needed to evaluate the conservation effectiveness of PAs for species conservation worldwide. Such an evaluation system must be targeted, institutionally embedded, and scientifically credible (with controls, counterfactuals, replication, and standard methods). Such a system will require a large initial investment, and incur ongoing costs. However, we believe these costs are far less than the long-term cost of not implementing it. The longer we wait to implement it, the more information we will irretrievably lose. A baseline for understanding change is something that you simply can’t buy back.

We urge the science and wildlife community to demand standardised and monitoring and evaluation of the conservation effectiveness of PAs worldwide. The Strategy for Resource Mobilisation under the CBD can help to create financial pathways toward this goal. When protected areas are established, funds must be appropriated to sustain management, including monitoring.

With better data on which to base decisions, we can determine the most effective use of protected areas (3). In the meantime, the conservation community should demand that biodiversity, not proxies such as area, be explicitly embedded into the realisation of Target 11 beyond 2020, so that we get SMARTED protected area commitments (see my related work HERE)

If you’d like to join the conversation in the lead up to World Conservation Congress, ping me (@ultimatemegs) or Ali (@AChauvenet) on twitter, and share your solutions and stories of local, regional and national success and failure in meeting the arguably more important, elements of Target 11 using the tags: #notjustarea #moreANDbetter and #expansionnotenough

Check out our letter here:  Chauvenet, A. L. M., and Barnes, M. D. 2016. Expanding protected areas is not enough. Science 353:551-552.

As well as related publications:

Barnes, M. Glew, L. Craigie, I. and Wyborn, C. Nature 526, 195, 2015

Craigie ID, Pressey RL, Barnes M. Remote regions – The last places where conservation efforts should be intensified. A reply to McCauley et al. (2013)


  1. M. Hoffmann et al., The impact of conservation on the status of the world’s vertebrates. science 330, 1503-1509 (2010).
  2. J. Geldmann et al., Effectiveness of terrestrial protected areas in reducing habitat loss and population declines. Biological Conservation 161, 230-238 (2013).
  3. P. J. Ferraro, S. K. Pattanayak, Money for nothing? A call for empirical evaluation of biodiversity conservation investments. PLoS Biol 4, e105 (2006).



2 Comments Add yours

  1. Carla Archibald says:

    Great comment Megs!

    1. ultimatemegs says:

      thanks Carla!

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