Welcome to MPApedia
MPApedia and its sister project MPAtlas, are tools to help understand the status of marine protected areas globally. The purpose of MPApedia is to provide a shared space for information on MPAs: what they are, where they are, the current level of coverage for different areas of the ocean, and information for you to become engaged in supporting MPAs where you live. The website MPAtlas.org provides this information in an online map format. Users can also find information on proposed MPAs, MPA news and various resources. In addition we are seeking input from the community on MPA issues. Read more About the MPAtlas. This is a project of the Marine Conservation Institute and the Waitt Foundation.
There are numerous definitions and ideas for what constitutes a marine protected area. As defined by the IUCN, a ‘protected area’ 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’. This definition, used in establishing the World Database on Protected Areas, provides flexibility to governments to define activities and levels of activity that are permissible to achieve long-term conservation. However, it also leads to a large over-estimate of areas that are 'protected' based on other MPA definitions that restrict damaging activities such as fishing, oil and gas development and extraction, as well as other activities. MPAtlas is designed to better reflect the actual protection level intended through designation of MPAs.
Many MPAs provide partial protections for marine life (single or a few protected species, gear restrictions, seasonal closures, catch limits, etc.). Other MPAs are multiple-use areas, where a variety of uses are allowed. For example, there are many different kinds of MPAs in US waters including national parks, wildlife refuges, monuments and marine sanctuaries, fisheries closures, critical habitat, habitat areas of particular concern, state parks, conservation areas, estuarine reserves and preserves, and numerous others. While a few sites exist as no-take marine reserves, the vast majority of MPAs, both in terms of numbers and area, are open for fishing, diving, boating, and other recreational and commercial uses .
Currently about 1.6% of the world’s oceans are in MPAs; far less than on land (roughly 12%). Many marine ecosystems are currently not protected and others are vastly underrepresented in existing MPAs.
Marine reserves are ocean areas that are fully protected from activities that remove animals or plants or alter habitats, except as needed for scientific monitoring. Most marine reserves are established with the goal of increasing the abundance and diversity of marine life inside the reserve. Scientific research shows that marine reserves consistently accomplish this goal. In contrast to many areas categorized as marine protected areas that allow a number of human activities, marine reserves set a higher standard and provide a greater level of protection. Marine reserves are also often termed "no-take" areas. Of the 6,000+ MPAs worldwide only a small fraction are in areas designated as no-take marine reserves. The vast majority of the ocean area that is in no-take MPAs exists in a few very large areas that are far from coasts and not necessarily representative of the oceans’ biodiversity.
Very Large Marine Reserves
There is accelerating momentum and opportunity for designating very large marine protected areas. A very large percentage of MPAs are tiny, nearly 50% are smaller than 10 sq km. Both small and large MPAs can export adults or larvae and be useful for fisheries by supplementing populations in surrounding areas, but MPAs are less useful for biodiversity if the animals they export suffer significant fishing mortality. MPAs that can reduce mortality and protect critical life history phases where they occur are much more effective for species that can complete their life cycles within MPAs.
Between 1975 and 2006, the largest MPA was Australia’s 345,400 sq km Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Designed as a zoned mosaic, it was not a no-take MPA; only 5% of its area was no-take reserves by the mid-‘80s. By 2004, it was clear that this level of protection was not nearly enough, so much more of the Park (33%) was designated as no-take areas. Today several more very large Marine Protected Areas have been designated including the Chagos Marine Protected Area in the Indian Ocean, now the worlds largest at 640,000 sq km (see Table). Research suggests large MPAs are much more cost-effective to implement and manage (McCrea-Stroub et al 2010), and in general larger areas will provide better protection from activities that occur outside the MPA. Despite this small and well managed MPAs can achieve conservation benefits. A growing number of large MPAs cover the oceans of many countries and the high seas protecting diverse pelagic ecosystems, offshore seamounts and ocean trenches.
Very Large Marine Protected Areas
|Year Designated||Name||Size||Nation or Authority|
|1975||Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority*||345,000 sq km||Australia|
|2006||Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument*||362,074 sq km||United States|
|2006||Phoenix Islands Protected Area||408,250 sq km||Kiribati|
|2009||Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument*||225,040 sq km||United States|
|2009||Marianas Trench Marine National Monument||246,608 sq km||United States|
|2009||Prince Edward Islands MPA*||180,000 sq km||South Africa|
|2009||South Orkney Islands Southern Shelf MPA*||94,000 sq km||CCAMLR|
|2010||NE Atlantic high sea areas*||238,988 sq km||OSPAR|
|2010||Motu Motiro Hiva MPA*||150,000 sq km||Chile|
|2010||Chagos Archipelago MPA*||640,000 sq km||United Kingdom|
|2012||South Georgia & South Sandwich Islands Marine Protected Area||1,000,700 sq km||United Kingdom|
|2012||Marine Park of the Glorieuses & Marine Park of Mayotte||110,000 sq km||France|
|* Areas strongly protected, over 30% of the area in no-take marine reserve|
Defacto Marine Protected Areas
Some of the most effective closed areas result from no access zones set aside for reasons such as the safety, security or regulation of shipping or military activities. One of the most notable areas is the US Island of Kaho’olawe, Hawai'i which served as a bombing practice range for the U.S. Navy for almost fifty years after the end of World War II. Today it provides thriving shallow water coral habitat as an inadvertent result of heavily restricted human use for all this time. Baseline surveys are still being conducted in order to assess the effects of the island’s converted protection as a reserve.
Although not often managed at the site level with area specific management or permanent, fishery closures are an important tool for conserving marine life. Regulations can restrict all fishing, or just some. Often closures are put in place for limited periods of time to help a specific fishery management objective such as helping to rebuild an overfished population, or reducing bycatch of a vulnerable population. In the United States Essential Fish Habitat Designations are an important type of MPA.
Why Marine Protected Areas?
In a world where fisheries and marine biodiversity are declining, marine protected areas are an essential, but not the only, tool needed to slow and reverse the oceans’ downward trajectory. Scientists have repeatedly shown that (MPAs) rapidly increase biomass and diversity of species in both tropical and temperate ecosystems (PISCO). MPAs can serve as insurance policies against the impacts of fishing. Since the 1990s it has been increasingly clear that human activities are reducing the diversity and abundance of marine life on a global scale (MCBI 1998; Norse 1993). The five major causes are physical alteration of marine ecosystems, pollution in the sea, introduction of alien species, atmosphere changes and —most of all— overexploitation of marine organisms. Fishing is rarely sustainable (Pauly et al. 2002), dramatically affecting targeted populations, reducing abundance and biomass, and individuals’ size, adult fecundity viability of offspring (Berkeley et al. 2004) and genetic capacity for growth (Law and Stokes 2005). It also causes profound ecosystem changes affecting diversity and abundance of nontarget species and structure and composition of seafloor habitats (Chuenpagdee et al. 2003; Dayton et al. 2002; Watling and Norse 1998). Evidence of fishing impacts on marine ecosystems is ubiquitous and compelling (Jackson et al. 2001).
Managing mortality of species one-by-one is data-intensive and expensive. So many species have been harmed by overfishing and destructive fishing methods that it would prohibitively costly to manage them all. An overwhelming body of scientific theory and evidence from around the world indicates that effectively managed no-take marine reserves reverse effects of overfishing and destructive fishing methods (Lester et al. 2009). In highly protected, well-managed and enforced MPAs, diversity and abundance of marine life increases. Fishes reproducing within these areas spill over into surrounding areas (Halpern et al. 2009).
To date, however, progress in designation of MPAs has been too slow to have hoped-for effects, and poaching has diminished effectiveness of many protected areas in the sea, as on land. Clearly accelerated MPA designation and effective management and enforcement are keys to MPAs’ success for biodiversity conservation, fisheries and tourism.
Marine protected areas, if managed properly, can be an effective way of protecting marine ecosystems and their cultural and historical heritage for future generations to experience and enjoy. Although there are many reasons MPA’s are important, some of the best reasons to support them are because:
- MPA’s protect entire ecosystems including habitat and ecosystem function
- MPA’s protect biodiversity at three levels: ecosystem, species and genetic
- MPA’s protect habitats and ecosystems from destructive fishing practices and other harmful human activities, and allow already damaged areas and ecosystems to recover
- MPA’s provide resilience to protect against potentially damaging external impacts, such as global warming and ocean acidification
- MPA’s established at relatively undisturbed areas can serve as benchmarks to compare with altered ecosystems to assess human impact and improve management
These benefits have motivated a number of nations to set goals for MPA coverage of their ocean territories, and international bodies are working to establish MPAs on the high seas.
Cabo Pulmo National Park, Mexico
Research by marine biologists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego has documented the remarkable recovery of marine life at Cabo Pulmo National Park in the Gulf of California. The area, protected by local fishermen and other community members is now a thriving undersea wildlife park tucked away near the southern tip of Mexico's Baja California peninsula.
Results of a 10-year analysis of Cabo Pulmo, published in the Public Library of Science (PLoS) ONE journal, revealed that the total amount of fish in the reserve ecosystem (the "biomass") boomed more than 460 percent from 1999 to 2009. Citizens living around Cabo Pulmo, previously depleted by fishing, established the park in 1995 and have strictly enforced its "no take" restrictions.
"We could have never dreamt of such an extraordinary recovery of marine life at Cabo Pulmo," said National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala, who started the study in 1999. "In 1999 there were only medium-sized fishes, but ten years later it's full of large parrotfish, groupers, snappers and even sharks."
The most striking result of the paper, the authors say, is that fish communities at a depleted site can recover up to a level comparable to remote, pristine sites that have never been fished by humans.
"The study's results are surprising in several ways," said Octavio Aburto-Oropeza, a Scripps postdoctoral researcher, World Wildlife Fund Kathryn Fuller fellow and lead author of the study. "A biomass increase of 463 percent in a reserve as large as Cabo Pulmo (71 square kilometers) represents tons of new fish produced every year. No other marine reserve in the world has shown such a fish recovery."
The paper notes that factors such as the protection of spawning areas for large predators have been key to the reserve's robustness. Most importantly, local enforcement, led by the determined action of a few families, has been a major factor in the park's success. Boat captains, dive masters and other locals work to enforce the park's regulations and share surveillance, fauna protection and ocean cleanliness efforts.
"We believe that the success of CPNP is greatly due to local leadership, effective self-enforcement by local stakeholders, and the general support of the broader community," the authors note in their report.
Strictly enforced marine reserves have been proven to help reduce local poverty and increase economic benefits, the researchers say. Cabo Pulmo's marine life recovery has spawned eco-tourism businesses, including coral reef diving and kayaking, making it a model for areas depleted by fishing in the Gulf of California and elsewhere.
"The reefs are full of hard corals and sea fans, creating an amazing habitat for lobsters, octopuses, rays and small fish," said Brad Erisman, a Scripps postdoctoral researcher and co-author of the article. "During some seasons thousands of mobula rays congregate inside the park and swim above the reef in a magnificent way."
The scientists have been combining efforts to monitor the Gulf of California's rocky reefs every year for more than a decade, sampling more than 30 islands and peninsula locations along Baja California, stretching from Puerto Refugio on the northern tip of Angel de la Guarda to Cabo San Lucas and Cabo Pulmo south of the Bahia de La Paz.
In the ten years studied, the researchers found that Cabo Pulmo's fish species richness blossomed into a biodiversity "hot spot." Animals such as tiger sharks, bull sharks and black tip reef sharks increased significantly. Scientists continue to find evidence that such top predators keep coral reefs healthy. Other large fish at Cabo Pulmo include gulf groupers, dog snappers and leopard groupers.
"I participated, back in the 1990s, in the studies for the declaration of the marine park. Frankly, we decided to go ahead because the community was so determined but the place at that time was not in good environmental health," said Exequiel Ezcurra, Director of the University of California Institute for Mexico and the United States (UC MEXUS) and co-author of the article. "If you visit the place now, you cannot believe the change that has taken place. And all of it has occurred thanks to the determination of a community of coastal villagers that decided to take care of their place and to be at the helm of their own destiny."
"Few policymakers around the world are aware that fish size and abundance can increase inside marine reserves to extraordinary levels within a decade after protection is established; fewer still know that these increases often translate into economic benefits for coastal communities" said Aburto-Oropeza. "Therefore, showing what's happened in Cabo Pulmo will contribute to ongoing conservation efforts in the marine environment and recovery of local coastal economies."
Many nations have agreed to establish marine protected areas as part of their commitment to protecting biological diversity. The Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainability Development (WSSD), agreed in 2002 to establish representative networks of marine protected areas by 2012 . In 2004, the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) set a global marine MPA target of 10% by 2012 . In 2010, the CBD extended this deadline to 2020. Additionally, many countries have established their own national targets for marine protected areas, ranging in coverage from 10% to 30% (Table).
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA), report that marine protected areas (MPAs) now cover approximately 1.6% of the marine area of the world and around 4% of national waters out to 200 nautical miles . The precise level of MPA coverage is difficult to determine and Marine Conservation Institute calculated that the upper limit for global coverage of marine protected area coverage now stands at around 1.7%, following new large MPA designations, and just under 0.2% of that coverage is located beyond national jurisdictions. However, many of these areas are “paper-parks”, the actual marine area protected is questionable with weak regulations and/or poor compliance. Statistics for no-take areas, which offer the best chances for protecting biodiversity, are not available, but their area is certain to be considerably less, on the order of tenths of a percent.
International MPA Targets
|CBD (2010)||Designate 10% of the world’s marine areas under MPA status by the year 2020|
|Durban Action Plan (2003)|| Establish a global system of MPA networks to greatly increase the marine and coastal area covered by 2010. |
No-take zones to comprise at least 20-30% of each habitat.
|The Evian Agreement (2003)||Establish networks of marine protected areas under international law by 2012|
|WSSD (2002)||Establish representative networks of MPAs by 2012|
National MPA Targets
Many countries have established national targets, accompanied by action plans and implementations. Many countries are also collaborating with each other to establish effective regional conservation plans.
|Country||Plan of Action|
|The Bahamas|| 20% of the marine ecosystem protected for fishery replenishment by 2010.|
20% of coastal and marine habitats by 2015.
|Belize|| 20% of bioregions.
30% of Coral reefs.
60% of turtle nesting sites.
30% of Manatee distribution.
60% of American crocodile nesting.
80% of Breeding areas.
|Chile||10% of marine areas by 2010. National network for organization by 2015.|
|Cuba|| 22% of land habitat, including:
|Dominican Republic||20% of Marine and Coastal Areas by 2020.|
|Micronesia||30% of shoreline ecosystems by 2020.|
|Fiji|| 30% of coral reefs by 2015.
30% of water managed by Marine Protected Areas by 2020.
|Germany||38% of water managed by the Marine Protected network. (no set date)|
|Grenada||25% of nearby marine resources by 2020.|
|Guam||30% of nearby marine ecosystem by 2020.|
|Indonesia|| 100,000 km2 by 2010.
200,000 km2 by 2020.
|Ireland||14% of territorial waters as of 2009, see Irish Marine Protected Areas|
|Jamaica||20% of marine habitats by 2020.|
|Kiribati||Designated the Phoenix Islands Protected Area in 2008, the largest MPA at that time.|
|Madagascar||100,000 km2 by 2012.|
|Marshal Islands||30% of nearby marine ecosystem by 2020.|
|New Zealand||20% of marine environment by 2010.|
|North Mariana Islands||30% of nearby marine ecosystem by 2020.|
|Palau||30% of nearby marine ecosystem by 2020.|
|Peru||Marine Protected Area system established by 2015.|
|Philippines||10% Fully Protected by 2020.|
|Senegal||Creation of MPA network. (no set date)|
|St. Vincent and the Grenadines||20% of marine areas by 2020.|
|Tanzania||10% of marine area by 2010; 20% by 2020.|
|United Kingdom||Establish an ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas by 2012.|
|United States||A national system of marine protected areas with no set deadline, currently includes 297 member sites.|
1 UNEP-WCMC. 2008. National and Regional Networks of Marine Protected Areas: A Review of Progress. UNEP-WCMC, Cambridge.
2 Bertzky, B. November 9, 2011. Protected Planet Report: Tracking progress on how protected areas are contributing to meeting the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. CBD SBSTTA 15 Side Event. UNEP-WCMC; IUCN-WCPA. PDF Text of Protected Planet Report
3 Toropova, C., Melianie, I., Laffoley, D., Matthews, E., Spalding, M. 2010. Global Ocean Protection. IUCN. Access pdf
In addition to the MPA targets listed in the table above, many nations have established a variety of MPAs in their waters. Many of these nations have also entered into regional network agreements. Various sites provide additional details to regional initiatives.
Atlantic Arc Network of MPAs - MAIA
Caribbean MPA Network - CamPAM
Mediterranean MPA Network - MedPan
North American MPA Network - NAMPAN
West Africa MPA Network - RAMPAO
Publication and Reference Library
Berkeley, SA, MA Hixon, RJ Larson and MS Love 2004. Fisheries sustainability via protection of age structure and spatial distribution of fish populations. Fisheries 29(8): 23-32
Chuenpagdee R., L.E. Morgan, S. Maxwell, E.A. Norse and D. Pauly 2003. Shifting gears: Assessing collateral impacts of fishing methods in U.S. waters. Frontiers in Ecology and Environment 1 (10): 517–524.
Dayton, P.K., S. Thrush and F.C. Coleman 2002. Ecological Effects of Fishing in Marine Ecosystems of the United States. Pew Oceans Commission, Arlington, Virginia. 44 p.
Halpern B.S., S.E. Lester and J.B. Kellner 2009. Spillover from marine reserves and the replenishment of fished stocks. Environmental Conservation 36: 268–276.
Jackson, J.B.C. et al. 2001. Historical Overfishing and the Recent Collapse of Coastal Ecosystems. Science. Vol. 293 no. 5530 pp. 629-637
Law, R. and K. Stokes 2005. Evolutionary impacts of fishing on target populations. Pages 232–246 in E. A. Norse and L. B. Crowder, eds. Marine conservation biology: the science of maintaining the sea’s biodiversity. Island Press, Washington, D.C.
Lester, S.E., B.S. Halpern, K. Grorud-Colvert, J. Lubchenco, B.I. Ruttenberg, S.D. Gaines, S. Airamé and R. R. Warner 2009. Biological effects within no-take marine reserves: a global synthesis. Marine Ecology Progress Series 384: 33–46
Marine Conservation Biology Institute, 1998. Troubled Waters: A Call for Action. Statement by 1,605 marine scientists and conservation biologists. http://www.mcbi.org/publications/pub_pdfs/TroubledWaters.pdf
McCrea-Strub, A. Zeller, D., Sumaila, U.R., Nelson, J., Balmford, A., Pauly, D. 2011. Understanding the cost of establishing marine protected areas. Marine Policy, 35: 1–9.
Mora, C. and P.F. Sale 2011. Ongoing global biodiversity loss and the need to move beyond protected areas: a review of the technical and practical shortcomings of protected areas on land and sea. Marine Ecology Progress Series 434: 251–266
Norse, E.A., ed. 1993. Global Marine Biological Diversity: A Strategy for Building Conservation into Decision Making. Island Press, Washington DC
Pauly, D., D. V. Christensen, S. Guénette, T.J. Pitcher, U.R. Sumaila, C.J. Walters, R. Watson and D. Zeller 2002. Towards sustainability in world fisheries. Nature 418: 689-695
PISCO - The Science of Marine Reserves The Science of Marine Reserves
Watling, L. and E.A. Norse 1998. Disturbance of the seabed by mobile fishing gear: A comparison with forest clearcutting. Conservation Biology 12(6): 1180-1197.
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The Marine Conservation Institute is a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving our living oceans. As a leader in the global movement to protect and recover the integrity of vast ocean areas, they use the latest science to identify important marine ecosystems around the world. The Marine Conservation Institute brings together scientists, politicians, government officials and other organizations around the world to protect essential ocean places and the wild species in them. The overarching goal is maintaining and recovering bountiful, diverse and healthy oceans now and for generations to come. The Marine Conservation Institute understands that marine ecosystems are essential for human survival, wealth and well-being.
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