Definitive science and clear policy options point the way to what must be done to restore and protect marine life, but like many global challenges, the intelligence, science, policy knowledge and expertise is often fragmented and frequently does not reach the right ears.

The desperate need for a united response to marine protection is the reason Ocean Unite was formed – set up to assist with the unique ocean challenge: to unite and amplify impactful voices to secure a healthy and vital ocean.

A lot happened in the ocean conservation space this year. Below are 12 achievements to provide a much needed reminder that good things really did happen in 2016.

  • The world’s largest marine reserve was created off Antarctica back in October 2016. The 598,000 square-mile protected area – more than twice the size of Texas – will now protect everything from penguins to whales. Fishing will no longer be allowed in the new reserve, with the new protection going into force on December 1st, 2017.
  • The UN Preparatory Committee started work this year towards agreeing a new high seas biodiversity agreement. The final two sessions will take place in 2017 and will hopefully result in a strong treaty that can establish protected areas in the high seas (which cover about half of the planet).
  • A number of new marine species were given extra protection at this year’s CITES meeting – a standout success being the protection of Silky and Thresher sharks and devil rays.
Virgin Unite, Ocean Unite, Oceans
  • The percentage of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) significantly grew this year to a point that now 6.4 per cent of the ocean is ‘committed’ to being a MPA. This amount means that through 2016, we nearly doubled the area of ocean protected. Huge announcements by the US, UK, Mexico and France all bolstered efforts to protect our marine life, adding momentum to international calls to strongly protect at least 30 per cent of the ocean by 2030.
  • 5.24 billion dollars were invested into ocean conservation efforts this year.
  • The UN body tasked with assessing the state of the climate IPCC’s – The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – gathered and discussed where efforts should be focused for the next few years. The IPCC’s priorities for the next six years were established in April and include: 1.5C, oceans, cities and food security.  


  • 2016 was a positive year for shark sanctuaries. Vast sanctuaries were created, especially in the Caribbean and the Pacific resulting in a total of 7.34 million square miles of protection. 
  • It took four years of intense negotiations, but a ban on trawling at depths greater than 800 metres in all European waters to protect vulnerable deep sea life was finally agreed upon in June this year.
  • The Port State Measures Agreements which combats illegal fishing entered into force and gained momentum with 40 countries ratifying it.
  • 2016 marked the 10th anniversary of the UN General Assembly taking action to protect deep sea ecosystems from destructive fisheries like bottom trawling.
  • The Paris Agreement on climate change that commits countries to keep warming well below 2 degrees Celsius came into force, with currently over 120 countries ratifying it.
  • Over 1,200 new marine species were discovered. 

This post is part of a series produced by Virgin Unite in partnership with Ocean Unite, an initiative to unite and activate powerful voices for ocean-conservation action.