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World Heritage
Marine Programme

50 flagship marine protected areas of Outstanding Universal Value:
Beacons of Hope In a Changing Ocean

What we do

State of Conservation Reporting

We monitor and prepare evaluations on how countries protect their sites by conducting field visits and collecting scientific data

Global network of site managers

We connect daily managers from the 50 flagship marine protected areas to share conservation solutions and accelerate successful results

Climate change adaptation

We assess climate change impacts on marine World Heritage and invest in building resilience at the site level

Join us and support our work

Join the marine World Heritage community or write us to explore a possible collaboration

Where we work

Since the inscription of the first marine site on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1981, our network has grown in to a global collection of unique ocean places stretching from the tropics to the poles. Today, the List includes 50 unique ocean places across 37 countries – recognized for their unique marine biodiversity, singular ecosystem, unique geological processes or incomparable beauty.

Learn more →

Marine World Heritage Highlights

Ocean Science Roadmap for UNESCO Marine World Heritage 

In November 2021, UNESCO launched the science roadmap calling to substantially increase science investment to protect Marine World Heritage from climate impacts. 75% of marine World Heritage sites are unprepared to deal with the impact, because of a lack of scientific knowledge. The roadmap provides strategic guidance for science investment at marine World Heritage through the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021 - 2030).

A global eDNA project to study the biodiversity of UNESCO Marine World Heritage 

In October 2021, UNESCO launched a global eDNA project that will help measure the vulnerability of marine biodiversity to climate change and the impacts of that change on the distribution and migration patterns of marine life across marine World Heritage sites. The initiative will engage local citizens, guided by expert support, and will be implemented by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission and World Heritage Centre, with the support of the Government of Flanders.

Blue Carbon and UNESCO Marine World Heritage 

In March 2021, UNESCO released the first global scientific assessment of its World Heritage marine sites’ blue carbon ecosystems, highlighting the critical environmental value of these habitats. While these sites represent less than 1% of the world’s ocean, they host at least 21% of the world’s blue carbon ecosystem area, and 15% of the world’s blue carbon assets. 

The impact of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic and the wave of lockdowns across the globe had unprecedented effects for UNESCO marine World Heritage sites. The steep decline in tourism revenues left many sites struggling to keep rangers on the payroll, prevent illegal activity or to continue much needed research and monitoring. While local communities have seen a drastic reduction of their income, managers and their teams find creative ways to respond to the crisis and prepare for a future that allows people and nature to live in harmony.

Empowering local managers through a new digital knowledge platform

In April 2020, the World Heritage Marine Programme launched a new digital knowledge platform that brings local managers from across the 50 marine World Heritage sites together to share best practices and success stories. The goal is to bring the best of expertise, scientific innovation and conservation solutions within reach of local management teams.


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