Roadmap to 30×30: A Path Toward Durable Ocean Conservation

America must take real and immediate action to help our ocean. Today’s 30×30 report offers hope—and a pathway.

A Hawaiian green sea turtle (honu) in Maui, Hawaii.

Getty Images

Our ocean is under tremendous strain. For decades, the ocean has helped mitigate climate change’s worst impacts—absorbing much of the heat caused by global warming. Now, warmer and more acidic than ever before, ocean conditions are driving marine life to search for cooler waters, helping fuel harmful algal blooms, and destroying important habitats like coral reefs

Today’s 30×30 report outlines a process to identify and protect America’s natural heritage, and help our ocean. 

The report fleshes out the ambitious pledge President Biden announced in his first days in office: to conserve at least 30 percent of U.S. lands and inland waters and 30 percent of our ocean areas by 2030, also known as “30×30.” Thirty-by-thirty sets a target for us to achieve more protections for nature that will, in turn, provide a healthier climate; help safeguard our air and water quality; protect our food supply, health, our fish and other wildlife; and prevent mass wildlife extinctions. Today’s report lays down a path to this brighter future.

Thirty-by-thirty isn’t a slogan—it’s a goal to secure meaningful and durable conservation, and to plan now, while we have time to make a difference. Providing places for wildlife and habitat to thrive and also recover from various stresses strengthens our planet’s natural resilience in the face of climate change, yielding huge dividends in a climate-stressed world.

Led by the Department of the Interior, a host of federal agencies developed today’s report in coordination with a range of stakeholders, from agricultural and forest landowners to fishermen, Native American Tribes to States, local officials, and conservation groups. It’s not the same old story; there was a concerted effort at the start to bring different voices to the table—voices that have often been left out of the decision-making process—to reach for this bold objective. Principles set out in the document stress the importance of an inclusive, locally led process, of building together toward durable protections.

The United States can only reach a 30×30 goal by doing more to help people protect the ocean places that matter to them, in a manner that meets local, state, Tribal, and regional needs. This initiative offers a chance to create more equitable access to nature, bring communities together to conserve our shared natural heritage, and center Tribal sovereignty and self-determination.

Children play at Calafia Beach in San Clemente, California.

Hannah Arista/Docuvitae for NRDC

The report highlights the need for science to guide this effort. A strong scientific basis is essential to select areas and provide detail on the level of protection. We need to ensure that the locally-identified conservation measures will result in significant and lasting benefits for biodiversity, ecosystem structure and function, and climate resilience. Developing 30×30 guidance with well-respected and solid science teams that include experts in Tribal and Indigenous knowledge will help clarify and generate trust in this work and ensure that meaningful conservation outcomes follow.

What Does This Mean for Our Ocean?

In the ocean, scientists should consider the role of fully or highly protected marine protected areas (MPAs), as they are the most effective tool we have for preserving ocean ecosystems. These strong protections—the ocean’s equivalent of a Grand Canyon or Yellowstone National Park—provide safe havens where ocean life can recover and thrive without additional pressures from extractive practices like commercial fishing and oil gas drilling. They are a down payment for our future. Fully and highly protected marine areas are what’s needed to help ecosystems withstand and bounce back from human-induced disturbances and adapt to climate change, simultaneously benefiting communities by supporting tourism and recreation, and the jobs they generate.

Currently, the United States already fully or highly protects roughly 23 percent of ocean areas. But these areas are almost entirely in the western Pacific and northwestern Hawaii, leaving unique, biologically rich, and highly vulnerable areas off the continental U.S. coasts unprotected. We should look to protect a wide array of habitats to provide for all of our marine life and coastal communities. Ultimately, protected areas should represent the diversity of America’s marine ecosystems.

A brisingid basket star on Viosca Knoll 826, a natural deep reef in the Gulf of Mexico.

Lophelia II 2010 Expedition, NOAA-OER/BOEMRE

Achieving our 30×30 goal will require an all-of-government approach, across multiple levels of government, and across all regions of our nation. We must use all the tools and avenues at hand for stakeholders to engage—such as the pathways and processes set forth by the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the Antiquities Act, the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act, and the National Estuarine Research Reserves System. And while strengthening protections for 30 percent of our ocean, we cannot divert attention from sustainable ocean management of the remaining 70 percent.

NRDC strongly supports the Biden administration’s commitment to 30×30. And we’re not alone. Recent nationwide polling reveals that 30×30 receives broad support. Four out of five voters in the United States favor a plan to protect at least 30 percent of America’s land, ocean areas, and inland waters by the year 2030 because they understand it will improve our economy and our health. 

Join us in signaling your support for 30×30 to the administration in the action below.