According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 53 U.S. MPAs are in the proximity of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Big and the Small
The world's largest MPA is Phoenix Islands Protected Area. Part of the tiny nation of Kiribati, it lies in a remote part of the Pacific Ocean. The Phoenix Islands Protected Area stretches across 410,500 square kilometers (158,453 square miles), an area the size of California. The MPA includes eight small islands, two coral reef systems, and large swaths of deep ocean. Only a handful of people live on the islands, so it is a nearly pristine habitat for teeming populations of birds, fish, and other marine life.
The world's smallest MPA is Echo Bay Marine Provincial Park in British Columbia, Canada. It covers just 0.4 hectares (1 acre) and is a popular spot for ocean kayakers to pull ashore.
A marine protected area (MPA) is a section of the ocean where a government has placed limits on human activity. Many MPAs allow people to use the area in ways that do not damage the environment. Some ban fishing. A few do not allow people to enter the area at all.
MPAs have been established because the ocean and the things that live in it face many dangers. Threats to the ocean include overfishing, litter, water pollution, and global climate change. These threats have caused a decline in the population of many fish, marine mammals, and other sea creatures.
Marine protected areas can have many different names, including marine parks, marine conservation zones, marine reserves, marine sanctuaries, and no-take zones. More than 5,000 MPAs have been established around the world. Together, they cover 0.8 percent of the ocean.
Marine protected areas can be established in a variety of aquatic habitats. Some MPAs are in the open ocean. Many MPAs protect coastlines. Others cover estuaries, places where rivers enter the sea. In estuaries, freshwater and saltwater mix. Some freshwater habitats, including protected areas in the Great Lakes, are also considered MPAs.
Goals of MPAs
Different MPAs have different goals. The main focus of many MPAs is to protect marine habitats and the variety of life that they support. For example, the Galápagos Marine Reserve, which lies about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) off the west coast of South America, protects a series of small islands and the surrounding waters. This reserve includes a tremendous variety of habitats, from coral reefs to cold ocean currents to mangrove swamps, where trees grow directly in salty seawater. The waters around the Galápagos are home to 3,000 different plant and animal species, including unusual species such as the marine iguana, the world’s only seagoing lizard.
Some MPAs focus on conserving historic sites such as shipwrecks. The USS Monitor was a warship that sank in a storm off the coast of North Carolina during the Civil War. In 1975, the USS Monitor National Marine Sanctuary was established to protect the remains of the ship. It was the nation’s first national marine sanctuary.
Other MPAs are established in order to ensure that resources are sustainable—that they will not run out. By having limits that prevent overfishing, these MPAs ensure that fish can reproduce and maintain healthy populations. This enables people to fish year after year, maintaining their way of life. Georges Bank, off the coast of New England and Nova Scotia, Canada, was once one of the world’s greatest fisheries. But it was heavily fished for centuries, and populations of cod, haddock, flounder, and other species plummeted. After several MPAs were established by the United States and Canada, fish populations began to increase, and fishing improved.
Levels of Protection
Different MPAs provide different levels of protection. The strictest type of MPA allows no human entry at all. This not only prevents people from fishing, but also prevents people from disturbing delicate habitats. No-entry MPAs tend to be small and are often used for research. Parts of the vast Seaflower Reserve off Colombia’s Caribbean coast ban all human access.
Other MPAs are less strict. In a no-take MPA, fishing and collecting are not allowed, but people can travel through the area and use it for recreation, such as snorkeling or swimming. All of Laughing Bird Caye National Park, which protects a small island 18 kilometers (11 miles) off the coast of Belize in Central America, is a no-take MPA.
In multiple-use MPAs, the area is protected, but some fishing is allowed. Many national parks, such as Acadia National Park in the U.S. state of Maine, are multiple-use MPAs.
Many MPAs are divided up into different zones. In some zones, fishing is allowed, while in other zones, people might not be permitted entry at all. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is the site of one of the world’s largest MPAs. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is divided into zones. Some of these zones allow recreational and commercial fishing. About one-third of the park has strict rules against fishing. Since these zones were put in place, the numbers of fish and corals have increased.
Establishing an MPA
National governments establish many MPAs. State, local, and tribal governments also establish MPAs. For example, the U.S. state of California has established the Point Lobos State Marine Reserve to protect underwater canyons and kelp forests. The Quileute Tribe of the U.S. state of Washington works with the federal government to keep the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary a sustainable fishery.
Sometimes, national governments work together to establish an MPA that crosses borders. Italy, France, and Monaco together established the Pelagos Sanctuary for Mediterranean Marine Mammals. It covers parts of sea that is in the nations’ own territories as well as international waters.
At some MPAs, the level of protection remains the same year-round. At others, people are only barred from an area during certain seasons, often when vital species are breeding. For example, in the Irish Sea, fishing is controlled during cod spawning season, when the fish produce and fertilize eggs. This helps conserve the cod population.
Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry aquatic Adjective
having to do with water.
to prohibit, or not allow.
natural or artificial line separating two pieces of land.
Encyclopedic Entry: border breed Verb
to produce offspring.
deep, narrow valley with steep sides.
Encyclopedic Entry: canyon century Noun
Civil War Noun
(1860-1865) American conflict between the Union (north) and Confederacy (south).
climate change Noun
gradual changes in all the interconnected weather elements on our planet.
Encyclopedic Entry: climate change coastline Noun
outer boundary of a shore.
popular food fish native to the North Atlantic Ocean.
commercial fishing Noun
industry responsible for catching and selling fish.
to save or use wisely.
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.
steady, predictable flow of fluid within a larger body of that fluid.
Encyclopedic Entry: current damage Noun
harm that reduces usefulness or value.
to reduce or go down in number.
fragile or easily damaged.
to bother or interfere with.
conditions that surround and influence an organism or community.
to form or officially organize.
mouth of a river where the river's current meets the sea's tide.
Encyclopedic Entry: estuary federal Adjective
having to do with a nation's government (as opposed to local or regional government).
to make productive or fertile.
to catch or harvest fish.
industry or occupation of harvesting fish, either in the wild or through aquaculture.
popular food fish with a flat body.
water that is not salty.
Georges Bank Noun
(37,500 square kilometers/14,480 square miles) fishing ground extending from off the U.S. state of Massachusetts to off Nova Scotia, Canada.
system or order of a nation, state, or other political unit.
Great Lakes Noun
largest freshwater bodies in the world, located in the United States and Canada. Lake Huron, Lake Ontario, Lake Michigan, Lake Erie, and Lake Superior make up the Great Lakes.
environment where an organism lives throughout the year or for shorter periods of time.
Encyclopedic Entry: habitat haddock Noun
popular food fish native to the north Atlantic Ocean.
unit of measure equal to 2.47 acres, or 10,000 square meters.
to add or become larger.
body of land surrounded by water.
Encyclopedic Entry: island kelp forest Noun
underwater habitat filled with tall seaweeds known as kelp.
trash or other scattered objects left in an open area or natural habitat.
reptile, usually with four legs and scales.
mangrove swamp Noun
coastal wetland dominated by mangrove trees, which have roots that can survive in salty water.
marine conservation zone Noun
area of the ocean set aside for protection of aquatic ecosystems.
marine iguana Noun
lizard native to the Galapagos Islands.
marine mammal Noun
an animal that lives most of its life in the ocean but breathes air and gives birth to live young, such as whales and seals.
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.
marine reserve Noun
part of the ocean where no fishing, hunting, drilling, or other development is allowed.
Encyclopedic Entry: marine reserve marine sanctuary Noun
part of the ocean protected by the government to preserve its natural and cultural features while allowing people to use and enjoy it in a sustainable way.
Encyclopedic Entry: marine sanctuary multiple-use MPA Noun
marine protected area that allows different levels of human activity, usually by zones.
national park Noun
geographic area protected by the national government of a country.
New England Noun
area in the United States comprising the states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
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 ocean Noun
large body of salt water that covers most of the Earth.
Encyclopedic Entry: ocean open ocean Noun
area of the ocean that does not border land.
to harvest aquatic life to the point where species become rare in the area.
Phoenix Islands Protected Area Noun
(408,250 square kilometers/157,626 square miles) largest marine protected area in the Pacific Ocean.
to fall sharply.
total number of people or organisms in a particular area.
pure or unpolluted.
people and culture native to the western part of the U.S. state of Washington.
recreation area Noun
specific area that allows camping, boating, fishing, diving, kayaking, picnicking, and other activities.
distant or far away.
to create offspring, by sexual or asexual means.
scientific observations and investigation into a subject, usually following the scientific method: observation, hypothesis, prediction, experimentation, analysis, and conclusion.
available supply of materials, goods, or services. Resources can be natural or human.
large stream of flowing fresh water.
Encyclopedic Entry: river seagoing Adjective
able to use the ocean for travel.
remains of a sunken marine vessel.
to swim underwater using a simple tube to breathe air above the surface.
to give birth to.
always or almost always following limits, rules, or regulations.
able to be continued at the same rate for a long period of time.
path or line of material.
to move while entirely or mostly in the water.
to overflow or be full of.
degree of hotness or coldness measured by a thermometer with a numerical scale.
Encyclopedic Entry: temperature tremendous Adjective
very large or important.
USS Monitor Noun
(1862) first ironclad warship built for the U.S. Navy.
necessary or very important.
seagoing vessel built for armed conflict.
water pollution Noun
introduction of harmful materials into a body of water.
largest marine mammal species.
area separated from others by artificial or natural divisions.
Encyclopedic Entry: zone