From the 2023 Our Ocean Conference taking place this week in Panama, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has announced the launch of a new global 30x30 Ocean Accelerator to advance the historic goal of protecting and conserving at least 30% of the world’s ocean by 2030 – ”30x30”.

The 30x30 Ocean Accelerator represents a major new pool of funding and resources to advance the global expansion of effective and equitable marine protected areas (MPAs) and other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs), and Indigenous and traditional territories, in marine areas of importance for biodiversity across the globe.

“WCS has one of the world’s largest conservation programs with on-the-ground, practically oriented teams in countries around the world working with governments, local communities and Indigenous Peoples.  We are then well positioned to make a significant contribution to advancing the 30% protection global target in the oceans.  We have a well-developed strategy, ambitious aims, in-country partnerships, an equitable approach, and a clear theory of change.  This is an exciting opportunity to move our oceans to a sustainable footing by 2030,” said Dr Simon Cripps, WCS Global Marine Program Director.

Working hand in hand with coastal communities, national and local governments, and conservationists and institutions around the world, the Accelerator will deliver on an ambitious set of goals:

  • Commit: Collaborating with governments and communities on ambitious commitments for specific new protected and conserved areas. By 2030, 25 countries where WCS works will have committed to the greater conservation and protection of important marine and coastal areas, to deliver on the 30x30 target.
  • Create: Ensuring that commitments materialize in the creation of specific new, and expansion of existing MPAs and OECMs. By 2030, 500,000 km2 of additional ocean area important to biodiversity conservation will be protected.
  • Sustain: Sustaining and effectively managing protected areas by making sure Indigenous Peoples, community groups and governments have the financing, tools, and technologies they need. By 2030, 1 million km2 of ocean area will be equitably and effectively managed and supported with financing and tools to make that management possible.

“Additional efforts are needed to halt the dramatic loss of natural ecosystems in coastal Colombia,” said Jorge Parra, Conservation Areas Coordinator for WCS Colombia. “The 30x30 Ocean Accelerator program will be key to support the consolidation of an MPA network along the central Pacific Coast of Colombia by the establishment of one new MPA located in the Ramsar site, Delta of San Juan River (approx. 100 km2), and supporting communities’ sustainable development in the established MPAs Golfo de Tribugá Cabo Corrientes, El Encanto de Los Manglares de Bajo Baudó, and Isla Ají.”

The Accelerator is a tool for achieving 30x30 - a target of the Global Biodiversity Framework that was agreed by the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in December 2022 in Montreal, where all 196 Party governments committed  to the protection of at least 30% of our oceans by the end of the decade. This push to expand ocean protections, both through protected areas, OECMs, and Indigenous and traditional territories on the coast is part of a global movement to stem the tide of biodiversity loss in our oceans. However, many governments and local co-management groups remain without the resources and capacity to successfully implement this critical opportunity to address the challenges of the world’s oceans.

The ocean covers more than 70% of Earth’s surface, but currently only 8.2% of waters are legally protected through MPAs. On top of that, only 2.4% were designated to be“fully or highly” protected. The percentage of this area that is effectively managed and achieving biodiversity objectives is unknown, with all-too-many ineffective “paper parks”—protected areas that end up neglected due to a lack of tools, staffing, and financial resources. These spotty protections leave coastal communities, ocean ecosystems, and endangered species vulnerable to threats like commercial overfishing, pollution, and unsustainable resource extraction. 

The WCS 30x30 Ocean Accelerator, made possible with generous support from the Thomas L. Kempner, Jr. Foundation, will leverage the expertise of over 1,200 WCS scientists and conservationists in 25 WCS coastal programs around the world, and draw upon Indigenous science and traditional knowledge while working with our partners at the national, local, and village levels to achieve wins for both nature and coastal communities.