An international goal is to set aside 10 percent of coastal and marine waters as protected areas by 2020. Although much work remains to reach the goal, areas are being added at an accelerated pace.
Between 2003 and 2007, marine-protected areas grew at a rate of about 11.8 percent a year to cover about 2.5 million square kilometers (about 965,000 square miles). By 2010, protected areas covered about 4.8 million square kilometers, an average growth rate of 31 percent for each of the intervening three years. This year, protected areas cover about 8.2 million square kilometers, which would put the growth rate since 2010 at an average of 35 percent a year.
Over the next 12 to 24 months, another 5.2 million square kilometers could be added if Cook Islands, Australia, and New Caledonia follow through on their plans to establish or expand protected areas.
Protected areas are being added so fast that "you can't keep up to date with these things," Dr. Spalding says. "It's a huge acceleration."