Laws that protect marine life are put in place to manage the impact of our actions on the oceans. Which species can be hunted or fished, or not? Which species can be traded, and where? In many cases, strict laws are put in place to manage dwindling populations of the world’s most threatened marine plants and animals. Fishing, pollution, coastal development, changing ocean temperatures, invasive alien species… The list of threats to ocean life is long and, in many cases, strict laws are one of the strongest tools in an arsenal of management approaches. In the United States, the US Endangered Species Act (ESA) prioritises legal protection for species at risk of extinction. The Act draws on the best available current scientific knowledge to determine whether species should be listed as Endangered (is it in danger of extinction?) or Threatened (might it become endangered in future?). However, once these laws are in place, we seldom track how effective they are in achieving their goals. It is important to do so because then we learn more about how long a species may need to be listed in order to recover and which complementary tools work best to enact the law’s potential.