Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are zones of the ocean and/or Great Lakes that are protected by government agencies for the conservation and protection of marine life. In the United States alone, there are over 1,600 MPAs covering a large assortment of habitats. Locations of Marine Protected Areas include the open ocean, coastal areas, intertidal zones, estuaries, and the Great Lakes. MPAs are critical to protecting marine biodiversity, ecosystem function and sustaining healthy coastal communities.
There are varying degrees of protection in all of the United States’ Marine Protected Areas. In 2009, the United States established the National System of Marine Protected Areas to effectively conserve the marine resources of our nation. There are 437 sites under the national system that span an area of 191,030 square miles. Yet, only 4% of United States waters are covered by the national system. Nearly 77% of this 4% is no-take and prohibits the extraction or significant destruction of natural and cultural resources. This is because the largest MPA (covering approx. 140,000 square miles) is a no-take area. The largest area of the United States MPAs is the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in the Hawaiian Islands.
The three goals of the national system are to conserve and manage natural heritage, cultural heritage, and sustainable production. About 55% of the number of MPAs under the national system is managed under the natural heritage focus. Natural heritage is described as the nation’s biological communities, habitats, ecosystems, and processes and the ecological services, values and uses that they provide. Cultural heritage makes up 11% of the number of MPAs under the national system. Cultural heritage is a focus of the national system in order to protect the cultural resources that reflect the nation’s maritime history and traditional cultural connections to the sea, as well as the uses and values they provide. About one-third of the MPAs listed under our national system is a mixture of the three focuses under our national system goals. Sustainable production is the third focus that describes the nation’s renewable living resources and their habitats. Only 1% of our MPAs under the national system are protected by this conservation focus. 50% of the national system of MPAs is on the West Coast. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife manages 141 MPAs. A larger majority (61%) of MPAs are managed by state and territorial agencies, while a smaller percentage (36%) are managed by federal agencies. The other 3% are managed by partnerships between the two.
A list of National System MPAs can be found here: http://marineprotectedareas.noaa.gov/pdf/national-system/nationalsystem_siteslist_0713.pdf
Building the National System of Marine Protected Areas, published in August 2013 can be found here: http://marineprotectedareas.noaa.gov/pdf/national-system/analysis_nationalsystem_mpas_0713.pdf