• marine protected area
    Sea turtles and other large marine creatures are often found in marine protected areas.

    Photograph by Becky Sigal, MyShot

    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.

    ban Verb

    to prohibit, or not allow.

    border Noun

    natural or artificial line separating two pieces of land.

    Encyclopedic Entry: border
    breed Verb

    to produce offspring.

    canyon Noun

    deep, narrow valley with steep sides.

    Encyclopedic Entry: canyon
    century Noun

    100 years.

    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.

    cod Noun

    popular food fish native to the North Atlantic Ocean.

    commercial fishing Noun

    industry responsible for catching and selling fish.

    conserve Verb

    to save or use wisely.

    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.

    current Noun

    steady, predictable flow of fluid within a larger body of that fluid.

    Encyclopedic Entry: current
    damage Noun

    harm that reduces usefulness or value.

    decline Verb

    to reduce or go down in number.

    delicate Adjective

    fragile or easily damaged.

    disturb Verb

    to bother or interfere with.

    environment Noun

    conditions that surround and influence an organism or community.

    establish Verb

    to form or officially organize.

    estuary Noun

    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).

    fertilize Verb

    to make productive or fertile.

    fish Verb

    to catch or harvest fish.

    fishery Noun

    industry or occupation of harvesting fish, either in the wild or through aquaculture.

    flounder Noun

    popular food fish with a flat body.

    freshwater Noun

    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.

    government Noun

    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.

    habitat Noun

    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.

    hectare Noun

    unit of measure equal to 2.47 acres, or 10,000 square meters.

    increase Verb

    to add or become larger.

    island Noun

    body of land surrounded by water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: island
    kelp forest Noun

    underwater habitat filled with tall seaweeds known as kelp.

    litter Noun

    trash or other scattered objects left in an open area or natural habitat.

    lizard Noun

    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.

    overfish Verb

    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.

    plummet Verb

    to fall sharply.

    population Noun

    total number of people or organisms in a particular area.

    pristine Adjective

    pure or unpolluted.

    Quileute Noun

    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.

    remote Adjective

    distant or far away.

    reproduce Verb

    to create offspring, by sexual or asexual means.

    research Noun

    scientific observations and investigation into a subject, usually following the scientific method: observation, hypothesis, prediction, experimentation, analysis, and conclusion.

    resource Noun

    available supply of materials, goods, or services. Resources can be natural or human.

    river Noun

    large stream of flowing fresh water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: river
    seagoing Adjective

    able to use the ocean for travel.

    shipwreck Noun

    remains of a sunken marine vessel.

    snorkel Verb

    to swim underwater using a simple tube to breathe air above the surface.

    spawn Verb

    to give birth to.

    strict Adjective

    always or almost always following limits, rules, or regulations.

    sustainable Adjective

    able to be continued at the same rate for a long period of time.

    swath Noun

    path or line of material.

    swim Verb

    to move while entirely or mostly in the water.

    teem Verb

    to overflow or be full of.

    temperature Noun

    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.

    vital Adjective

    necessary or very important.

    warship Noun

    seagoing vessel built for armed conflict.

    water pollution Noun

    introduction of harmful materials into a body of water.

    whale Noun

    largest marine mammal species.

    zone Noun

    area separated from others by artificial or natural divisions.

    Encyclopedic Entry: zone
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