Area Based-Conservation

WCS is dedicated to preserving the most critical marine and coastal ecosystems on Earth.

We support governments, Indigenous Peoples, and local communities to establish new protected areas and assists with implementation in highly protected MPAs, while strengthening the scientific, social, legal, political, and sustainable finance systems for effective, long-term management of both MPAs and other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs).

Photo Credit: ©V Falabella

WCS uses cutting-edge marine science to guide the design and management of MPAs, ensuring community involvement in conservation and inspiring action among leaders. Our long-term presence in 26 marine country programs, commitment, and on-site expertise that have built a foundation for trust, compliance, and participation in more ambitious conservation action and ever-expanding protection through MPAs. While each country has a unique process for creating and implementing MPAs and OECMs, this project is applying the WCS-supported processes that have proven successful:


Define spatial priorities based on scientific data on species and ecology.


Build public support for increased ocean protection.


Work with appropriate governmental agencies to secure legal protected status.


Implement tools for MPA enforcement and effective management.

30x30 Ocean Accelerator

Photo Credit: ©Björn Svensson

WCS launched this to advance the historic goal of protecting 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030. We aim to achieve sustainable and equitable ocean protection wins in the world’s most important coastal areas for marine biodiversity and for communities.

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WCS builds on the accomplishments of the successful WCS MPA Fund launched in 2016; between 2016 and 2021, WCS invested $16.2 million from private philanthropy to support the establishment of MPAs spanning 26 countries, resulting in 437,875 km2 of previously unsecured ocean habitat. The Fund leveraged an additional $74+ million in public funding within those countries. WCS is positioned to expand on this progress as we prepare for ambitious new ocean protection goals by 2030.

Between now and 2030, WCS will continue to work with local leaders, Indigenous Peoples and local communities, and conservation and research partners to keep the momentum going, driving the change that is necessary for the realization of our shared goal of protecting 30% of the planet’s oceans by 2030.

26 countries

There are 26 countries in our strategic portfolio of on-the-ground country programs implementing MPA/OECM creation and management

200+ MPAs

WCS plays a role in over 200 MPAs and OECMs in designation, planning, monitoring, enforcement, and financing.

437,875 square km

We have helped protect 437,875 square kilometers of ocean since 2016. Roughly equivalent to the size of California.

53 MPAs and OECMs

WCS has played a part in the creation of 53 MPAs and OECMs.

Featured Projects


Photo Credit: ©Javier Silva

In Colombia, we have used SMART to document patterns of resource-use in MPAs, establish enforcement protocols, and track ecological and socio-economic indicators for adaptive management action. Partnering with Vulcan, we are working to integrate the Skylight tool into our SMART marine technologies to blend satellite-derived surveillance with on-the-water response to illegal activity. This is particularly important for combating illegal fishing in and around Colombia’s offshore Yuruparí-Malpelo MPA.

Gulf of Guinea

Photo Credit: Julie Larsen Maher © WCS

WCS is supporting the effective management of newly created MPAs and community fishing areas in Gabon, while expanding transboundary marine spatial planning efforts within the broader Gulf of Guinea. In 2012, the President of Gabon announced a new initiative, Gabon Bleu, a model for whole ocean protection and transboundary conservation of marine biodiversity, improved governance at sea, and fisheries reform to ensure sustainability. Following the successes of Gabon Bleu’s breakthrough designation of 26% of the country’s EEZ as MPAs, we are now pioneering regional and scalable models for nationwide effective MPA management. Gabon is a champion country heading into Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) negotiations, and in advance, the government has pledged to increase the area of its EEZ under sustainable management to more than 30% through MPAs and community fishing zones.


In September 2020, the government of Belize announced the expansion of the first of eight replenishment zones (no-fishing areas) at the Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve, now totaling 1,301 km2. WCS provided vital scientific research and leveraged our global policy work and a robust communications strategy towards this achievement. WCS is providing technical and scientific support to fulfill Belize’s national expansion goals of increasing replenishment zones across territorial waters. Combined with a parallel government project, this would result in 6,697 km2 (or 16% of the EEZ) covered by MPAs by 2030.

Photo Credit: ©Emily Darling/WCS

WCS has worked alongside the Belizean government for more than 30 years, ensuring that fishers actively participate in the decision-making process, and by providing the data needed for effective fisheries management that enhances biodiversity by increasing density of species and securing the livelihoods of current and future fishers. With the combination of regulated no-take replenishment zones and outreach to increase compliance to fisheries regulations, WCS has documented a three-fold increase in number of lobster, conch and the biomass of fish in effectively conserved reefs off the coast of Belize. These efforts build on the passage of the comprehensive Fisheries Resource Bill earlier in 2020, which will ensure the sustainable use and management of the fishery resources and the conservation for the coral reefs, mangroves and coastal waters that support them, as well as provide greater decision-making authority, food security, and resiliency of local communities.

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