• marine reserve
    Point Sur State Marine Reserve borders two of California's terrestrial state parks: Andrew Molera State Park and Point Sur Lightstation State Historic Park.

    Photograph by Rick Horn, MyShot

    Empty Doughnut Holes
    There are no marine reserves in international waters. These areas, between the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of different countries, are called "doughnut holes." The oceans' doughnut holes are governed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Environmental organizations support creating marine reserves in doughnut holes.

    A marine reserve 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. A marine reserve is a marine protected area in which removing or destroying natural or cultural resources is prohibited. In the United States, marine reserves may also be "no-take MPAs,” which strictly forbid all extractive activities, such as fishing and kelp harvesting.

    Marine reserves are rare in the United States, making up less than one percent of U.S. waters. Marine reserves are often located within larger, multiple-use MPAs. Some zones of multiple-use MPAs, also called marine sanctuaries, permit extractive activities. Marine reserves are sometimes located on the coastal boundary of a multiple-use MPA.

    Marine reserves are created for a variety of purposes. Many reserves protect the spawning grounds of species such as salmon. Others serve as outdoor laboratories that allow scientists to compare the undisturbed areas of a reserve to those impacted by human activities. Through these experiments, scientists are better able to understand how human activities affect the marine environment.

    Sitka Pinnacles Marine Reserve, Alaska

    Located off the coast of Cape Edgecumbe, Alaska, Sitka Pinnacles Marine Reserve covers almost eight square kilometers (three square miles) of the northern Pacific Ocean. This marine reserve includes two underwater volcanic peaks, or pinnacles. Established in 1999, Sitka Pinnacles is the first no-take zone in Alaska.

    The pinnacles provide fish species with both shallow and deep-water habitats. Fish like halibut occupy the deeper ocean floor, while lingcod and rockfish inhabit shallower water. The pinnacles are also home to cold-water corals.

    The abundance of lingcod and rockfish initially attracted commercial fishermen to the area. By the 1990s, however, fishing significantly reduced their populations. Increased sport fishing activities further contributed to this population decline. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council created the reserve to provide complete protection for lingcod, rockfish, and halibut species.

    Although small in size, Sitka Pinnacles Marine Reserve is one of the few no-take reserves in the world that is independent of a larger MPA.

    Chagos Islands Marine Reserve

    On April 1, 2010, the British government announced the creation of the world’s largest marine reserve in an area surrounding the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean.

    The new reserve covers about 543,900 square kilometers (210,000 square miles)—an area larger than the U.S. state of California. Its establishment roughly doubles the global coverage of the world’s oceans under protection, from two-tenths to more than three-tenths of 1 percent.


    The Chagos Islands are a group of seven coral atolls. An atoll is a low-lying, ring-shaped coral island. The atolls of the Chagos Islands are home to coral reefs, several species of endangered sea turtles, and 175,000 pairs of breeding seabirds.

    The Chagos Island Marine Reserve will shelter at least 76 species classified as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Some of these organisms include birds such as the Maldivan pond heron, more than 200 species of coral, sea turtles, sharks, and more than a thousand species of reef fish. The large tuna fishery in the area was responsible for the accidental bycatch of more than 60,000 sharks every year.

    To protect the delicate coral reef ecosystems, all extractive activity is prohibited in the reserve. No commercial fishing, sport fishing, mining, drilling, coral collection, or treasure-hunting is allowed.

    The Chagos Islands are currently uninhabited by people. Native Chagossians were forced to relocate in the late twentieth century as the United States and the United Kingdom developed a nearby military base, Diego Garcia. The Diego Garcia military base is still in use by the U.S. and the U.K., and the British government has not allowed Chagossians to return to the islands.

    Many Chagossians oppose the marine reserve. They want to return to their native islands, and say that their traditional way of life depends on fishing. Some Chagossians support altering the rules of the reserve to allow zones for sustainable fishing.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    alter Verb

    to change.

    atoll Noun

    a coral reef or string of coral islands that surrounds a lagoon.

    Encyclopedic Entry: atoll
    bycatch Noun

    fish or any other organisms accidentally caught in fishing gear.

    coast Noun

    edge of land along the sea or other large body of water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: coast
    commercial fishing Noun

    industry responsible for catching and selling fish.

    coral Noun

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

    coral island Noun

    low-lying island whose land is made up of organic material associated with coral.

    coral reef Noun

    rocky ocean features made up of millions of coral skeletons.

    delicate Adjective

    fragile or easily damaged.

    drill Verb

    to make a hole using a rotating digging tool.

    extractive activity Noun

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

    fishery Noun

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

    forbid Verb

    to disallow or prohibit.

    government Noun

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

    habitat Noun

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

    Encyclopedic Entry: habitat
    halibut Noun

    flat fish native to the north Pacific Ocean.

    heron Noun

    long-legged wading bird.

    International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Noun

    environmental organization concerned with preserving natural ecosystems and habitats.

    kelp Noun

    type of seaweed.

    lingcod Noun

    marine fish native to the north Pacific Ocean.

    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
    military base Noun

    facility owned and operated by a branch of the military.

    mining Noun

    process of extracting ore from the Earth.

    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
    ocean Noun

    large body of salt water that covers most of the Earth.

    Encyclopedic Entry: ocean
    pinnacle Noun

    highest point.

    prohibit Verb

    to disallow or prevent.

    rare Adjective

    unusual or uncommon.

    relocate Verb

    to move a residence or business from one place to another.

    resource Noun

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

    rockfish Noun

    marine fish that lives near rocky shores.

    spawning grounds Noun

    area where fish come each year to reproduce.

    sport fishing Noun

    catching fish for competition or recreation.

    sustainable Adjective

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

    treasure-hunting Noun

    process and hobby of searching and digging for valuable items in historical places such as shipwrecks.

    tuna Noun

    large marine fish.

    uninhabited Adjective

    place where no people make a permanent home.

    United Kingdom Noun

    nation made of the countries of England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

    volcanic Adjective

    having to do with volcanoes.

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