Encyclopedic Entry

Marine parks allow visitors to interact with marine species in their native environments, although few animals are as friendly as this Florida manatee trying to hitch a ride on a kayak.

Photograph by Jason Bagnell, MyShot

Climate Changes in the Great Barrier Reef
The largest marine park in the world is the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in Australia, at approximately 350,000 square kilometers (135,135 square miles). The Great Barrier Reef is one of the richest, most complex, most diverse ecosystems in the world.

The Great Barrier Reef, however, is under severe threat from climate change. In the last decade there have been two mass coral-bleaching events resulting from elevated sea temperatures. In addition, scientists predict that the reef's waters will become more acidic, decreasing the capacity of corals to build skeletons and create habitat for reef biodiversity.

A marine park is a type of marine protected area (MPA). An MPA is a section of the ocean where a government has placed limits on human activity. Marine parks are multiple-use MPAs, meaning they have different zones allowing different types of activities.

Marine parks usually allow recreational activities, such as boating, snorkeling, and sport fishing. Most marine parks also include zones for commercial fishing, sometimes called open zones. They may also include no-take zones, which prohibit extractive activities, such as fishing, mining, and drilling.

Marine parks are very similar to local parks on land. They are used by the community and often have facilities to encourage their use. They also face many of the same problems as parks on land: overuse and pollution.

East End Marine Park, U.S. Virgin Islands

East End Marine Park protects the largest barrier reef system in the Caribbean Sea. It encompasses 155 square kilometers (60 square miles) of coral reef, shallow sea, and other marine habitats. East End also protects the eastern end of the island of St. Croix, including about 19 kilometers (12 miles) of coastline. Because East End includes both marine and terrestrial (land) habitats, it is considered a hybrid park.

This area of the U.S. Virgin Islands is biologically diverse. An estimated 400 species of tropical fish live in and around the East End, while 17 species of nesting seabirds rely on the park for food and shelter. Seagrass communities also thrive in East End. Seagrass is an important species, one of the few plants that live directly in the ocean. Sea turtles, manatees, fish, and many species of seaweed depend on the seagrass habitat for survival.

Some of the plant and animal species that call East End home are considered threatened or endangered. Elkhorn and staghorn corals dominate the reefs. Various species of brain coral, lettuce coral, star coral, and starlet coral are also found there. Scientists have recently discovered that the populations of these animals have been rapidly declining over the last three decades.

The park is also home to endangered green turtles, hawksbill turtles, and leatherback turtles. East End includes a turtle refuge, extending about a mile from St. Croixs primary turtle nesting beaches. The park also includes no-take zones, which are off-limits to fishing and harvesting in order to protect the turtles and other threatened species.

Most of East End Marine Park is made of open zones, where most extractive activity, including commercial fishing, is allowed. The only activity prohibited throughout the park is the removal of coral. Other zones are limited to recreational activities, such as sport fishing, boating, and scuba diving.


Kisite Mpunguti Marine Park, Kenya

Kisite Mpunguti Marine Park, in the Indian Ocean, is located off the south coast of Kenya. The park encompasses a marine ecosystem that includes four small islands surrounded by coral reefs. The three Mpunguti Islands are partially covered by dense equatorial rain forest, while Kisite Island is covered in low grasses.

The islands are not inhabited, and the ecosystems remain fairly pristine. No fishing or other extractive activities are allowed in the park. Transportation to the park is limited. These limitations reduce the threat of overfishing and pollution.

More than 250 species inhabit Kisite Mpunguti Marine Park, including angelfish, pufferfish, green sea turtles, hawksbill turtles, dolphins, and humpback whales. Seagrasses and tropical seaweeds also thrive in the park.

Kisite Mpunguti is a major destination for snorkelers and scuba divers. The warm water is clear, and the tropical ecosystems have species that exist nowhere else in the world. One of the most unusual species is the coconut crab, the largest land crab in the world. The legspan of a coconut crab can be up to a meter (3 feet). The dolphins that live in Kisite Mpunguti are also popular with tourists, who visit the park in boats, called dhows, from the mainland.

Tourists and historians also visit the islands for research. The islands are filled with caves, where slaves from Africas mainland were held captive before being shipped overseas.

Vocabulary

Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry

barrier reef

Noun

ridge of coral or rock found parallel to the coast of an island or continent, but separated from it by a deep lagoon.

captive

Adjective

captured or enslaved.

coastline

Noun

outer boundary of a shore.

coconut crab

Noun

large, land-dwelling crab native to the tropical Indian and Pacific Oceans.

commercial fishing

Noun

industry responsible for catching and selling fish.

community

Noun

group of organisms or a social group interacting in a specific region under similar environmental conditions.

coral

Noun

tiny ocean animal, some of which secrete calcium carbonate to form reefs.

coral reef

Noun

rocky ocean features made up of millions of coral skeletons.

decade

Noun

10 years.

dense

Adjective

having parts or molecules that are packed closely together.

dhow

Noun

a type of sailing ship.

diverse

Adjective

varied or having many different types.

ecosystem

Noun

community and interactions of living and nonliving things in an area.

Encyclopedic Entry: ecosystem

encompass

Verb

to enclose or form a circle around.

equatorial

Adjective

having to do with the equator or the area around the equator.

extend

Verb

to enlarge or continue.

extractive activity

Noun

process that removes, or extracts, any natural or cultural resource from an area.

facility

Noun

a building or room that serves a specific function.

government

Noun

system or order of a nation, state, or other political unit.

grass

Noun

type of plant with narrow leaves.

habitat

Noun

environment where an organism lives throughout the year or for shorter periods of time.

Encyclopedic Entry: habitat

hybrid

Noun

the end result of two different sources of input.

inhabit

Verb

to live in a specific place.

island

Noun

body of land surrounded by water.

Encyclopedic Entry: island

manatee

Noun

threatened marine mammal native to the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean.

marine

Adjective

having to do with the ocean.

marine park

Noun

part of the ocean protected by the government to preserve a threatened ecosystem or habitat. Marine parks are often recreational areas.

Encyclopedic Entry: marine park

marine protected area (MPA)

Noun

area of the ocean where a government has placed limits on human activity.

multiple-use MPA

Noun

marine protected area that allows different levels of human activity, usually by zones.

no-take zone

Noun

area set aside by the government where all extractive activity, including fishing, mining, and drilling, is not allowed.

Encyclopedic Entry: no-take zone

overfish

Verb

to harvest aquatic life to the point where species become rare in the area.

plant

Noun

organism that produces its own food through photosynthesis and whose cells have walls.

pollution

Noun

introduction of harmful materials into the environment.

Encyclopedic Entry: pollution

primary

Adjective

first or most important.

pristine

Adjective

pure or unpolluted.

prohibit

Verb

to disallow or prevent.

rain forest

Noun

area of tall evergreen trees and a high amount of rainfall.

recreational

Adjective

having to do with activities done for enjoyment.

refuge

Noun

public land set aside to protect native wildlife.

scuba

noun, adjective

(self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) portable device for breathing underwater.

seabird

Noun

bird native to an aquatic environment.

seagrass

Noun

type of plant that grows in the ocean.

seaweed

Noun

marine algae. Seaweed can be composed of brown, green, or red algae, as well as "blue-green algae," which is actually bacteria.

slave

Noun

person who is owned by another person or group of people.

sport fishing

Noun

catching fish for competition or recreation.

terrestrial

Adjective

having to do with the Earth or dry land.

threatened species

Noun

organism that may soon become endangered.

tourist

Noun

person who travels for pleasure.

transportation

Noun

movement of people or goods from one place to another.

tropical

Adjective

existing in the tropics, the latitudes between the Tropic of Cancer in the north and the Tropic of Capricorn in the south.

turtle

Noun

type of reptile with a shell encasing most of its body.

Credits

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Writers

Kim Rutledge
Melissa McDaniel
Diane Boudreau
Tara Ramroop
Santani Teng
Erin Sprout
Hilary Costa
Hilary Hall
Jeff Hunt

Illustrators

Tim Gunther
Mary Crooks, National Geographic Society

Editors

Kara West
Jeannie Evers

Educator Reviewer

Nancy Wynne

Producer

Caryl-Sue, National Geographic Society

Sources

Dunn, Margery G. (Editor). (1989, 1993). "Exploring Your World: The Adventure of Geography." Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society.

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