Identifying key biodiversity areas as marine conservation priorities in the greater Caribbean

Michael S. Harvey, Gina M. Ralph, Beth A. Polidoro, Sara M. Maxwell, Kent E. Carpenter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Increasing rates of Anthropocene biodiversity extinctions suggest a possible sixth mass extinction event. Conservation planners are seeking effective ways to protect species, hotspots of biodiversity, and dynamic ecosystems to reduce and eventually eliminate the degradation and loss of diversity at the scale of genes, species, and ecosystems. While well-established, adequately enforced protected areas (PAs) increase the likelihood of preserving species and habitats, traditional placement methods are frequently inadequate in protecting biodiversity most at risk. Consequently, the Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) Partnership developed a set of science-based criteria and thresholds that iteratively identify sites where biodiversity is most in need of protection. KBA methodology has been rarely applied in the marine realm, where data are often extremely limited. We tested the feasibility of KBA population metrics in the Greater Caribbean marine region using occurrence and population data and threat statuses for 1669 marine vertebrates. These data identified areas where site-specific conservation measures can effectively protect biodiversity. Using KBA criteria pertaining to threatened and irreplaceable biodiversity, we identified 90 geographically unique potential KBAs, 34 outside and 56 within existing PAs. These provide starting points for local conservation managers to verify that KBA thresholds are met and to delineate site boundaries. Significant data gaps, such as population sizes, life history characteristics, and extent of habitats, prevent the full application of the KBA criteria to data-poor marine species. Increasing the rate and scope of marine sampling programs and digital availability of occurrence datasets will improve identification and delineation of KBAs in the marine environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4039-4059
Number of pages21
JournalBiodiversity and Conservation
Issue number13
StatePublished - Nov 2021


  • Conserving marine biodiversity
  • Geographically restricted species
  • Marine protected area networks
  • Targeted conservation
  • Threatened species

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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