Global marine protection targets have been criticised for being ecologically irrelevant and often inadequate. However, they may also provide motivation for conservation action. However, no such targets have yet been met, and the health of the marine environment has continued to deteriorate. The Tenth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) recently adopted a new marine protection target, in October, 2010. As such, it is timely to critically assess the potential role of this and other global marine protection targets in conservation and marine resource management. Three targets adopted in the past ten years were assessed using the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timebound) framework. This assessment showed that the targets appear to have evolved to have become 'SMARTer' over time, particularly more Specific. The most recent CBD target also appears to be more Achievable than earlier targets. Three broad issues emerged that can inform the potential role, limitations, and challenges associated with global-scale marine protection targets: (i) that SMART target formulation, implementation, monitoring, and revision, is critically underpinned by relevant data and information; (ii) that perceived irrelevance of global targets may be at least partly due to a mismatch between the scale at which the targets were intended to operate, and the scale at which they have sometimes been assessed; and (iii) the primary role of global-scale targets may indeed be psychological rather than ecological. Recent progress indicates some success in this role, which could be built on with further 'SMARTening' of targets.