A marine protected area (MPA) is a region of the sea where habitats are protected by regulation of human activities.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) definition, an MPA is:

'A clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values' www.iucn.org

Types of MPAs

There are many kinds of MPAs, according to their specific protection objective.

The reasons for establishing MPAs can vary depending on resources of the area and the objectives of the MPA. Some examples of different MPA objectives are given below:

  • The protection of depleted, threatened, rare or endangered species and populations (e.g. the sea turtle Caretta caretta or the Mediterranean monk seal Monachus monachus).
  • The conservation of habitats considered critical for the survival and/or the lifecycle of species.
  • The limitation or prohibition of human activities that may adversely affect the continuing natural evolution and functioning of the ecosystem within and around the MPA.
  • The conservation, protection, and management of historical and cultural heritage in marine and estuarine areas (e.g. support of traditional subsistence practices, social and religious activities, prevention and exploitation of significant historical and archaeological submersed sites or ancient shipwrecks).
  • The enhancement of research and training, offering an opportunity to inform the public about the value of protecting the marine environment or to raise awareness of particular natural and cultural features or phenomena through outreach and educational programs taking place in visitor centers, etc.
  • The monitoring of the environmental effects of human activities, such as direct and indirect effects of development and adjacent land-use practices (e.g. eutrophication).

The types of human activities that are regulated, and the strictness of the regulations, are largely dependent upon the objectives of the MPA.

  • © HCMR

It is often believed that a marine reserve, where extraction of any resources is prohibited (no-take zones), is the only type of MPA. However, MPAs may include no-take zones, as well as other zones in which partial protection is afforded (seasonal closures, catch limits, etc.), and these often act as multiple-use areas, where a variety of uses are allowed. While a few sites exist as no-take marine reserves, many MPAs are open for recreational use (diving, boating), and others still allow commercial and sport fishing.

About 5,000 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) have been established across the globe. Currently, in less than 1% of the world's ocean, fishing is prohibited.

For more information please visit: ocean.nationalgeographic.com