Marine Protected Area

Marine Protected Area

Marine Protected Area (MPA) is often used as an umbrella term covering a wide range of marine areas with some level of restriction to protect living, non-living, cultural, and/or historic resources. A commonly used definition is the one developed by the World Conservation Union. It defines Marine Protected Area as quote|"any area of the intertidal or subtidal terrain, together with its overlying water and associated flora, fauna, historical and cultural features, which has been reserved by law or other effective means to protect part or all of the enclosed environment." [] .

Because the term "MPA" has been used widely around the globe, its meaning in any one country or region may be quite different than the one above. There are many related terms such as SPA (Specially Protected Area), MR (Marine Reserve), MP (Marine Park), NTZ (No Take Zone), or ASC (Area of Special Conservation) which have specific types of restrictions associated with them, as defined by the laws of the state. One example of the many names used for ocean protected areas can be found by looking at the National MPA Inventory for the United States. [] In the international arena there has been a similar plethora of concepts: Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas, Special Areas, etc.

Some see the purpose of MPAs as fully closed areas where no human activities should be allowed, while others see MPAs as keenly managed areas designed to enhance use and productivity of an area. The permissions given within an MPA often depends on the objectives (see Types of MPAs) of its establishment.

Types of MPAs

MPAs can be established for a multitude of reasons: to protect a certain species, to benefit fisheries management, or to protect full ecosystems, rare habitat, or nursing grounds for fish. MPAs are also established to protect historical sites as shipwrecks and important cultural sites such as aboriginal fishing grounds. MPAs can be very large (Great Barrier Reef) or very small (Area Marina Protetta Capo Rizzuto).

Typical restrictions in MPAs include ones on fisheries, oil and gas mining and access for tourism. Other restrictions may include the use of ultrasonic devices like sonar (which confuse the guidance system of cetaceans), development and construction and the like. Still others, such as New Zealand's marine reserves, are 'no take' areas, where all forms of exploitation are prohibited. Even navigation is at times regulated, sometimes so strictly to ban it all together, either as a preventive measure or to avoid direct disturbance to certain species. The degree to which environmental regulations can be enforced against foreign ships varies according to whether MPAs are located territorial waters, exclusive economic zone, high seas). The law of the sea regulates these limits.

For this reason, most MPAs have been located are in the territorial waters of coastal States, where enforcement of their regulations can be properly ensured. However, MPAs can also be established in a state's exclusive economic zone and even international waters. For example, Italy, France and Monaco, in 1999 jointly established a cetacean sanctuary in the Ligurian Sea named the Pelagos Sanctuary for Mediterranean Marine Mammals. This sanctuary includes both national and high seas waters.


Quite often protection of these areas have shown an increase in the numbers and diversity of marine life and improvement of the overall health of the system. With that said, MPAs often create an ecological success, but can in certain cases also have a negative impact on the local communities. Some of these impacts include interpersonal conflicts, lack of enforcement (if an MPA cannot be adequately marked on maps or by buoys, trespassing can occur), and the loss of fishing as an economic or food resource for the community. Proponents argue however that MPAs help increase fish stocks in the surrounding area so helping the local communities [] . Indeed research by Callum Roberts found that adjacent fisheries increased from between 46 to 90% within 5 years. Roberts said describing his findings: "Despite some nervousness from fishermen about the establishment of marine reserves, our research shows that fisheries actually benefit from reserves within a very short space of time," [] .

Effectiveness of MPAs

A learning model of migratory fish behaviour and fishermen interaction was used [

Moustakas, A., Silvert, W. and Dimitromanolakis A. (2006). [ "A spatially explicit learning model of migratory fish and fishers for evaluating closed areas"] Ecological Modelling, 192: 245-258. [ Download] ] to examine the following questions:

* Do MPAs export adult fish biomass? – Results indicated that closed areas increased fish biomass, but also decreased fish catches. Interestingly when a fish spawning area was closed to fishers, mean fish biomass was higher but the variance was lower. Therefore it seems that indeed MPAs create a fish population buffer.

* Do MPAs increase fish catches? – According to the model, when an area is closed but there are no catch regulations such as Individual transferable quota, fish biomass is reduced and fish catches are temporarily increased, though decreased on the long-term due to the reduced fish biomass. Thus a displacement of the fleet from one locality to another will generally have little effect if the same quota is taken, resulting in overfishing.

* Are the benefits of MPAs dumped by fish motility (i.e. slow or fast moving fish species)? – Modelling results indicated that transfer rates of fish increase the benefits of marine reserves in terms of fish biomass, but decrease fish catches.


MPAs can be found all around the world. Some well known ones with articles available include:
* The Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, Australia
* The Ligurian Sea Cetacean Sanctuary in the seas of Italy, Monaco and France
* The Dry Tortugas in the Florida Keys, USA
* The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Hawaii
* The Phoenix Islands, Kiribati (the largest maritime sanctuary in the world) [ [ Conservation International - World’s Largest Marine Protected Area Created in Pacific Ocean ] ]
* The Channel Islands Marine Protected Areas in California, USA [cite journal |author=D Smith and KA Miller. |title=Safe Harbors for our Future: An Overview of Marine Protected Areas. |journal=In: SF Norton (ed). Diving for Science...2003. |volume=Proceedings of the American Academy of Underwater Sciences |issue=22nd Annual Scientific Diving Symposium |date=2003 |url= |accessdate=2008-08-13 ]

See also

*Marine park
*Special Area of Conservation
*Special Protection Area
*Specially Protected Areas of Mediterranean Importance
*Protected areas
*United States National Marine Sanctuary
*Marine Spatial Planning


* Anthoni, J Floor (2003) [ FAQs about marine reserves and marine conservation]
* Christie, Patrick, "Marine Protected Areas and Biological Successes and Social Failures in Southeast Asia." School of Marine Affairs and Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies. University of Washington. Washington. January 5th, 2004.
* Halpern, B. and R. Warner (2002). "Marine reserves have rapid and lasting effects." Ecology Letters 5: 361-366.
* Hoyt, E. (2005) Marine Protected Areas for Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises. Earthscan, London, 516pp. []
* Pauly, D. et al, "Towards sustainability in world fisheries." University of British Columbia, Canada. 2002
* Polunin, Nichoas V C (2002) Handbook of Fish Biology and Fisheries, [ Chapter 14: "Marine protected areas: Fish and fisheries."] Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 063206482X
* Russ, G. R. and A. C. Alcala (2004). "Marine reserves: long-term protection is required for full recovery of predatory fish species." Oecologia 138: 622-627.
*UNEP (2007). " [ Procedure for Establishing a Regional System of Fisheries Refugia in the South China Sea and Gulf of Thailand in the context of the UNEP/GEF project entitled: “Reversing Environmental Degradation Trends in the South China Sea and Gulf of Thailand”] ". South China Sea Knowledge Document No. 4. UNEP/GEF/SCS/Inf.4

Further reading

* Fabio Spadi (2000), "Navigation in Marine Protected Areas: National and International Law", [,1,1;homemain,1,1;"Ocean Development & International Law"] 31: 285-302.
* [ Moustakas, A. & I. Karakassis. How diverse is aquatic biodiversity research?, Aquatic Ecology, 39, 367-375]
* [ Moustakas, A. & I. Karakassis (in press). A geographic analysis of the published aquatic biodiversity research in relation to the ecological footprint of the country where the work was done. Stochastic Environmental Research and Risk Assessment, Doi: 10.1007/s00477-008-0254-2] .

External links

* [] a searchable, global database of details of all marine protected areas
* [] MPA News: monthly news and analysis on marine protected areas worldwide
* [ Microdocs] : [ Marine parks]

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