Novel environmental conditions due to climate change in the world’s largest marine protected areas


  • Up to 97% of very large marine protected areas will contain novel conditions
  • Very large marine protected areas in the tropics most exposed to novelty
  • Novel conditions for pH emerge as soon as 2030
  • 44.9% of the ocean will see novel conditions by 2060, up to 87% by 2100

Science for society

Oceans cover more than 70% of the Earth’s surface and provide us with goods and services ranging from food and energy to cultural resources and identity. However, climate change threatens the availability of these ocean-derived benefits. Climate change is turning once familiar and stable ocean conditions into unfamiliar and novel ones. These changes might even be significant enough to undermine much of the work done to protect the ocean.

This research investigates the timing and impact of climate change on the oceans and the largest MPAs. We show that a majority (up to 87%) of the ocean will have novel conditions, as will almost all of the MPAs we examined (97%). These novel conditions may cause culturally and economically important species to migrate or possibly go extinct. Understanding when, where, and how these changes occur can help inform ocean and climate policy that connects people across space and time.


Climate change is altering the biogeochemical conditions of the ocean, leading to the emergence of novel environmental conditions that may drastically affect the performance of very large marine protected areas (VLMPAs) (area > 100,000 km2). Given the prominent role that VLMPAs play in ocean conservation, determining when and where novel conditions will emerge within VLMPAs is vital for ensuring a healthy ocean in the future. Here, using a non-parametric approach to detect novelty, we show that 60%–87% of the ocean and 76%–97% of VLMPAs are expected to contain novel conditions across multiple biogeochemical variables by 2100, with novel conditions in pH emerging by 2030. With most VLMPAs expected to contain environmental conditions unlike those currently within their boundaries, and given the likelihood of any of these climate futures unfolding, present-day management will need to consider alterations to current and future VLMPA design and use.

Mana‘oakamai Johnson S. & Watson J. R., in press. Novel environmental conditions due to climate change in the world’s largest marine protected areas. One Earth. Article (subscription required).

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