Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are defined areas in the ocean that are designated for conservation as part of an ecosystem-based management (EBM) approach to protecting marine resources.

MPAs are demarcated by law, and can include intertidal, sub-tidal, and pelagic environments. Within these environments, governance systems are implemented to protect the relevant body of water, bottom, marine/terrestrial flora and fauna and notable historical and cultural features.

There are many different types of MPAs, with protection measures that range from multiple-use (i.e. allowing some types of fishing, or certain recreational activities) to ‘no-take zones’ (i.e. no extractive activities such as fishing, mining, drilling are allowed). Some MPAs restrict certain areas to one specific use (e.g. local fishing), according to the overall needs of a particular area.

As of 2010, there were approximately 6,800 MPAs around the globe (Toropova et al. 2010).

Global Extent of Marine Protected Areas
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Which Goals Does This Affect?

Features of Marine Protected Areas Worldwide
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Great Barrier Reef Marine Protected Area Zoning
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How Was It Measured?

The Ocean Health Index measures MPAs in two ways. The percent of the total EEZ area of each country that is designated for MPAs was measured for the Wild-Caught Fisheries sub-goal of Food Provision, Iconic Species sub-goal of Sense of Place, and both sub-goals of Biodiversity. For Artisanal Fishing Opportunities, Natural Products and Carbon Storage, the Index measured the percentage of area within 3 nautical miles (nmi) offshore that is designated as an MPA. The rationale for using a narrower area is that nearshore habitats and species are the most important ecosystems to protect in order to achieve these goals, while open ocean protected areas would do little to sustain them.

For the Lasting Special Places sub-goal of Sense of Place, the Index measured the percentage of area within 3 nmi offshore that is designated as an MPA, plus the percentage of coastal area within a 1 km-wide strip parallel to the shore that has protected status. In each instance, the Index utilized data from the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Center (UNEP-WCMC), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA) and the Sea Around Us project.

What Are The Impacts?

MPAs are increasingly recognized as an effective measure for protecting endangered species and ensuring marine biodiversity.

By offering protection from certain pressures, such as fishing, MPAs may allow species to better withstand pressures such as sea surface temperature (SST) rise and ocean acidification, resulting in greater overall marine health within designated areas.
Many MPAs encompass critical breeding grounds and nurseries for fish. Spillover from these growing populations can enhance fisheries surrounding MPA borders. The increased abundance and size of commercially important species provide a vital source of food (fish and shellfish) for human consumption.
MPAs provide and support a broad range of sustainable coastal livelihoods.

People whose livelihoods are directly tied to MPAs have a higher average income than people whose livelihoods are marine-based but not tied to the Marine Management Area (MMA) (Samonte-tan et al. 2010).

Protected breeding and nursery grounds within MPAs may increase populations of some commercially viable species (e.g. finfish and shellfish).

What Has Been Done?

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World Database on Marine Protected Areas (WDPA)
The WDPA provides a comprehensive data set of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) worldwide.

Protect Planet Ocean (PPO)
PPO is an initiative by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme- World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP- WCMC), providing definitions, information, and resources regarding Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), marine reserves, and Marine World Heritage Sites.

Marine Protected Areas Research Group (MPARG)
The MPARG undertakes research programs that focus on the establishment and management of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and the importance of advancing knowledge in this field.

National Geographic Mission Blue: Sylvia Earle Alliance (SEA)
This is a global partnership initiative aimed at restoring health and productivity to the ocean by inspiring public awareness and support of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

United Nations Environment Programme - World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP – WCMC)
The global network of designated Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) is on the rise as indicated by these A-Z Areas of Biodiversity Importance.

Science-to-Action Partnership 
This partnership was established to determine the progress of Marine Management Areas (MMAs) in regard to management goals when assessing successful MMAs.

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PHOTO(S): © Keith A. Ellenbogen
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