What is a marine protected area (MPA)?

A marine protected area is a defined region designated and managed for the long-term conservation of marine resources, ecosystems services, or cultural heritage.

Submarine canyons and seamounts are some of the most productive habitats in the deep sea, yet few have been explored. The Deep Connections 2019 expedition explored many of these features, including several within the Gully Marine Protected Area (MPA) in Canada, and the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, and the Frank R. Lautenberg Deep Sea Coral Protection Area within the U.S., providing important data that informs resource management. Video courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Deep Connections 2019. Download larger version (mp4, 315.5 MB).

The specific purposes, legal authority, level of protection, management approaches, and use allowance of individual marine protected areas (MPAs) can vary greatly from site to site. For instance, marine reserves  or “no-take” areas — which are rare in the United States, comprising just 3% of MPAs and 1% of U.S. waters — restrict extractive uses like collecting or fishing in an effort to protect and sustain sensitive habitats, biodiversity, threatened species, or fisheries. Other types of MPAs, including the vast majority of those within U.S. waters, are “multiple use,” allowing and providing for activities such as fishing, recreation, and industrial use.

There are nearly 1,000 MPAs within U.S. coastal, oceanic, and Great Lakes waters, including the National Marine Sanctuaries and marine national monuments, as well as many national parks, national wildlife refuges, state parks, locally protected areas, and more. Collectively, these sites serve as focal points for recreation, education, research, and conservation. The National Marine Protected Areas Center works to connect and strengthen MPAs both within the United States and internationally.

MPAs can be found across the globe , often guided by the principles  established by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Global Conservation Standards. Additionally, many national MPA agencies collaborate as a part of the Marine Protected Area Agency Partnership , which provides a forum for the international exchange of ideas and opportunities for cooperation.