A Global Assessment of Climate Change Adaptation in Marine Protected Area Management Plans

Sacha M. O’Regan, Stephanie K. Archer, Sarah K. Friesen, Karen L. Hunter
Posted on: 4/24/2023 - Updated on: 4/24/2023

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Marine protected area (MPA) efficacy is increasingly challenged by climate change. Experts have identified clear climate change adaptation principles that MPA practitioners can incorporate into MPA management; however, adoption of these principles in MPA management remains largely unquantified.

We conducted a text analysis of 647 English-language MPA management plans to assess the frequency with which they included climate change-related terms and terms pertaining to ecological, physical, and sociological components of an MPA system that may be impacted by climate change. Next, we manually searched 223 management plans to quantify the plans’ climate change robustness, which we defined as the degree of incorporation of common climate change adaptation principles.

We found that climate change is inadequately considered in MPA management plans. Of all plans published since 2010, only 57% contained at least one of the climate change-related terms, “climate change,” “global warming,” “extreme events,” “natural variability,” or “climate variability.” The mean climate change robustness index of climate-considering management plans was 10.9 or 39% of a total possible score of 28. The United States was the only region that had plans with climate robustness indices of 20 or greater. By contrast, Canada lags behind other temperate jurisdictions in incorporating climate change adaptation analysis, planning, and monitoring into MPA management, with a mean climate change robustness index of 6.8. Climate change robustness scores have generally improved over time within the most common MPA designations in Oceania, the United Kingdom, and the United States, though the opposite is true in Canada.

Our results highlight the urgent need for practitioners to incorporate climate change adaptation into MPA management in accordance with well-researched frameworks.


O’Regan S.M., Archer S.K., Friesen S.K., Hunter K.L. (2021). A Global Assessment of Climate Change Adaptation in Marine Protected Area Management Plans. Frontiers in Marine Science, 8:711085. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2021.711085

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