Marine Protected Areas

From Beachapedia

"Marine protected area" (MPA) is a broad term that encompasses a variety of conservation and management methods in the United States. MPA Executive Order 13158 defines an MPA as: "...any area of the marine environment that has been reserved by federal, state, territorial, tribal, or local laws or regulations to provide lasting protection for part or all of the natural and cultural resources therein."


Marine protected areas function as safe havens for marine life and provide areas where the ocean can rebuild and restore itself. Scientific research shows that marine protected areas can boost the abundance, diversity, and size of marine species living within their borders. A recent analysis of over 100 studies also indicates that marine protected areas provide benefits to humans as well, through increased well-being.

As of June 2019, there are 14,880 marine protected areas in the world, and counting, covering 7.6% of the global ocean. Many countries have committed to protect up to 10% of their coastal and marine areas by 2020, as part of the UN Convention of Biological Diversity, with a successful track record to date! Learn more about the current count and acreage of marine protected areas from Protected Planet.

The United States has developed a national system of marine protected areas (MPAs) to advance the conservation and sustainable use of the nation's vital natural and cultural marine resources. The purpose of the National System is to build management capacity among MPA programs, coordinate collaborative efforts to address common management issues and identify ecosystem-based gaps in the protection of significant natural and cultural resources for possible future action by the nation's MPA authorities.

The goals of the national system are to conserve and manage:

  • Natural heritage – the nation's biological communities, habitats, ecosystems, and processes and the ecological services, values and uses they provide
  • Cultural heritage – cultural resources that reflect the nation's maritime history and traditional cultural connections to the sea, as well as the uses and values they provide
  • Sustainable production – the nation's renewable living resources and their habitats (including, but not limited to, spawning, mating, and nursery grounds and areas established to minimize bycatch of species) and the social, cultural and economic values and services they provide

An updated Framework for the National System of Marine Protected Areas of the United States of America was published in March 2015. Originally published in 2008, the Framework outlines the goals and objectives of the National System of MPAs and describes how it is being implemented, as called for by Executive Order 13158. The updated Framework incorporates experience gained implementing the National System and advice from the Marine Protected Areas Federal Advisory Committee and MPA programs.

Much more information on MPAs is available from NOAA's National Marine Protected Areas Center.

Here's a nice illustrated guide to MPAs which explains how they work and their multiple benefits. A recent study by World Wildlife Fund further explains and quantifies those benefits. And this study indicates MPAs do work!

Surfrider Foundation's Role in MPAs

As a grassroots organization, Surfrider is engaged in both the planning and implementation of MPAs and fully protected marine reserves around the country. Marine protected areas protect some of the best recreational areas in the country, from the California coast to the Hawaiian Islands and from the Florida Keys to Oregon. More Oregon. These underwater parks enhance the overall experience of a variety of coastline activities by protecting biodiversity, wildlife abundance, and scenic viewsheds. Thriving protected areas provide a richer environment for kayaking, diving, tidepooling and birdwatching.

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are the wildlife refuges of the ocean. Surfrider chapters are supporting the success (and enjoyment) of MPAs in California, Oregon, Hawaii, Maine, and other states through local education, monitoring, and stewardship. Surfrider helped establish these MPA networks through community outreach, engagement, and coordination; and continues to work with communities and government agencies to ensure their lasting success for decades to come.

To read Surfrider Foundation’s Position Statement on Marine Protected Areas please click here. For more information on California’s MPAs, click here and view a map here.

The subject of Marine Protected Areas has been discussed in several posts on Surfrider Foundation's Coastal Blog.

Surfrider Foundation has been promoting Marine Protected Areas for a long time. A 3-Part Series on Marine Protected Areas appeared in Surfrider's newsletter Making Waves in 2001-2002.