Frequently Asked Questions
This section lists questions and answers that are commonly requested
about Marine Protected Areas.
What is a marine protected
The term “marine protected area” has been used by
marine management programs for several decades and has been defined
in many ways. The definition provided in the President’s
Executive Order is “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.”
Are there different kinds of MPAs?
Can they have different purposes?
MPA is a general term for places given special protections for
natural or historic marine resources by local, state, federal
or tribal authorities. Some people confuse marine reserves, which
are no-take areas, as the only type of MPA. Many MPAs are multiple-use
areas, where a variety of uses are allowed. There are many different
kinds of MPAs in U.S. 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
MPAs complement other management measures such
as fishery regulations and pollution controls.
Where do most MPAs exist in the U.S.?
When looking at MPAs in the United States, it’s easiest to take a regional perspective. Although MPAs are found in every region of the United States, the West Coast – California, Oregon, and Washington – has the highest number of MPAs. However, the region with the largest area of MPAs is the Pacific Islands. This is because of the designation of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine Monument, which is one of the largest marine conservation areas in the world,
Are MPAs the only solution for improved
marine resource management?
MPAs by themselves are not a panacea for improved marine resource
management. They are an additional tool that places an emphasis
on spatial parameters. MPAs are most effective when used in conjunction
with other management measures and are difficult to develop in
isolation. If established, MPAs must be adequately supported by
strong science; through the enforcement of any conservation measures
that have been enacted; and the monitoring of effectiveness to
verify that the site is fulfilling the goals for which it was
created. To do otherwise will result in designation of ineffective
Do MPAs close access
to fishing and other recreational use of the resource?
There are many types of Marine Protected Areas in the United States,
and most do not prohibit fishing and recreational uses throughout
their boundaries. Existing MPAs encompass a wide range of characteristics
and have been established for a variety of different purposes.
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.
What is the authority
for designating MPAs?
There are many different kinds of MPAs created by many different
local, state, tribal, or federal authorities. Federal authorities
include the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management
Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act,
the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, the National Wildlife Refuge
System Administration Act, and the National Park Service Organic
These authorities direct the Departments of Commerce
and the Interior to manage marine areas for a wide variety of
objectives, ranging from sustainable use of natural resources
to near complete prohibitions on consumptive uses. Under these
authorities, MPAs have been used for years to protect marine life
habitats and historic shipwrecks, rebuild fisheries, provide recreational
opportunities, recover endangered species, and support local economies
that depend on ocean resources.
Executive Order 13158 on MPAs does not provide
authority to establish new MPAs, or require that existing MPAs
become more restrictive.
Do MPAs exist worldwide?
According to the 2001 National Academy of Sciences study on MPAs,
the number of MPAs was estimated to total 1,306 in 1994, up tenfold
since 1970. Countries such as New Zealand and Australia have been
managing MPAs for over three decades. Canada recently designated
its first MPAs under its Oceans Act. Countries in Southeast Asia
and Africa have recently announced the creation of MPAs to protect
biodiversity and sustain fisheries. Several international conventions
came into force in 1994, including the U.N. Convention on the
Law of the Sea and the Convention on Biological Diversity, which
have led to the increased use of MPAs around the world. In September
2003, the World Parks Congress, consisting of 3,000 representatives
from land and Marine Protected Areas around the globe, met in
South Africa. One of their recommendations called on governments
to increase the amount of protected marine and coastal areas.
NOAA designated its first MPA, the Monitor National
Marine Sanctuary, in 1975.
What determines the size,
number, and location of MPAs?
The optimum size, number, and location of MPAs are determined
by the management goals of a particular area. There are three
basic designs that are most useful: a small single area, a large
single area, or a network of areas. A small area may be used to
protect a unique habitat, a site-specific life cycle event (such
as spawning aggregation that occurs in a single area), or a unique
shipwreck. A large single area may be used to protect species
nursery grounds, representative habitat from either fishing pressure
or destruction of habitat, or a large collection of historic vessels.
A network of MPAs may be used to protect habitats needed for the
diversity of life stages common among marine species to ensure
that larval transport occurs throughout an entire region.
What is Executive Order 13158 and
when was it signed?
Executive Order 13158 on Marine Protected Areas was issued May
26, 2000. It directs federal agencies to work with government
and non-governmental partners to increase protection and sustainable
use of ocean resources by strengthening and expanding a national
system of MPAs. The Order itself does not change any existing
MPAs. It does not establish any new MPAs.
The Executive Order directs federal agencies to
use existing discretionary authority to enhance or expand protections
as appropriate, recommend new MPAs as appropriate, and avoid harm
to the extent practicable. All actions concerning the management
and establishment of MPAS are left to the discretion of the local,
state or federal authorities that currently have those powers.
The Executive Order calls for using science and
public input to inventory and assess the effectiveness of the
existing collection of U.S. MPAs. It charges NOAA and the Department
of the Interior with several specific tasks including: (1) creating
an inventory of existing U.S. MPAs; (2) creating a national MPA
website to provide information on MPAs; (3) establishing a national
MPA Center to provide science, tools and strategies for MPA effectiveness;
(4) establishing an MPA Advisory Committee to provide non-federal
recommendations; and (5) consulting with government and non-governmental
What are the specific requirements
of Executive Order 13158?
Executive Order 13158 directs federal agencies to work with non-federal
partners to protect significant natural and cultural resources
within the marine environment by expanding and strengthening a
science-based, comprehensive national system of MPAs. It directs
federal agencies to use existing discretionary authority to enhance
or expand protections as appropriate, recommend new MPAs as appropriate,
and to the extent practicable avoid harm to the resources protected
The Department of Commerce (DOC) and the Department
of the Interior (DOI) were given the following specific tasks
to help fulfill this goal:
- Establish a MPA Advisory Committee to provide
non-federal recommendations (DOC)
- Establish a website for information on MPAs
(DOC & DOI)
- Publish and maintain a national inventory
of MPAs (DOC & DOI)
- Establish an MPA Center to provide science,
tools and strategies to assess the effectiveness of existing
and any future MPAs (NOAA)
- Consult with government and non-governmental
stakeholders (DOC &DOI)
The Environmental Protection Agency was specifically
directed to propose new regulations to protect the marine environment
from pollution (EPA).
Does the Executive Order establish
The Executive Order does not establish any new MPAs nor does it
provide new regulatory or statutory authority to establish new
MPAs. Rather, it calls for an evaluation, including an inventory,
of the current collection of MPAs; the creation of a publicly
accessible resource center on MPAs; and the establishment of an
MPA Federal Advisory Committee to provide expert guidance throughout
implementation of the Executive Order. New MPAs may be established
consistent with public review processes specified in existing
statutes, such as the National
Marine Sanctuaries Act and the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation
and Management Act.
the Executive Order replace existing MPA authorities?
The Executive Order does not order the creation of new authorities
or supersede existing regulatory or statutory authorities to protect
marine resources. It merely establishes a framework through which
federal and state agencies can better coordinate their resource
protection initiatives. In fact, the Executive Order specifically
states that the work of the MPA Center is intended to support,
not interfere with, agencies’ independent exercise of their
How can MPAs enhance
Scientific research shows that MPAs can protect and enhance fisheries.
Because MPA protections apply throughout a discrete area, they
are effective at protecting fish stocks at various life stages
in which fish are dependent on specific habitat types or locations.
For instances, MPAs that prohibit certain fishing gear types can
be used to protect spawning aggregation sites or nursery areas,
such as estuaries, that are particularly vulnerable to fishing.
Marine reserves, a type of MPA in which consumptive
uses such as fishing are prohibited, may actually enhance fisheries.
In the absence of fishing pressure inside reserves, fish are able
to grow to maturity and to increase in overall abundance. This
leads to increased reproductive potential inside reserves, and
the subsequent increased production of eggs and larvae, which
can be transported by currents of the reserves to replenish nearby
What is the scientific
evidence in support of MPAs as an additional marine resource management
Our science and experience clearly indicate that MPAs can be powerful
tools to help manage, protect and sustain the nation’s valuable
marine resources and the people and economies that depend on them.
The following scientific reports indicate the value of MPAs as
a management tool:
- The National Academy of Sciences’ Research
Council and Ocean Studies Board issued a report in the summer
of 2001 entitled, “Marine Protected Areas: Tools for Sustaining
- Scientists in Maryland and Virginia have released
a scientific consensus, under the auspices of the Chesapeake
Research Consortium, with recommendations to establish oyster
reefs—protected in sanctuaries and off-limits to harvesting—as
long term guidance to restoration of oyster populations to the
- Numerous scientific papers published in the
last five years in peer reviewed science journals report the
use of MPAs to restore and rebuild fisheries and protect and
conserve sensitive species and habitats.
Many of these studies and reports are catalogued in the MPA Library.
What is the national system of MPAs?
The national system of MPAs is the group of MPA sites, networks and systems established and managed by federal, state, tribal and/or local governments that collectively enhance conservation of the nation’s natural and cultural marine heritage and represent its diverse ecosystems and resources. Although managed independently, national system MPAs work together at the regional and national levels to achieve common objectives for conserving the nation’s important natural and cultural resources.
long will it take to develop a national system of MPAs?
Developing a national system of MPAs is a long process. First,
NOAA and the Department of the Interior are building a database
of federal, state, commonwealth, territory, and tribal marine
managed areas in the United States. Once the inventory process
is complete, it will be used to form a pool from which sites may
be considered for placement on a list of MPAs. The list of MPAs
will be determined after an administrative process for listing
has been established. Once the list of MPAs has been made, a national
system of MPAs will be defined and in place.
Why do we need a national system of MPAs?
Over the past century, MPAs have been created by a mix of federal, state, and local legislation, voter initiatives, and regulations, each established for its own scientific purpose. As a result, the nation’s collection of MPAs (reserves, refuges, preserves, sanctuaries, areas of special biological significance, and others) is fragmented, complex, confusing, and potentially missing opportunities for broader regional conservation through coordinated planning and management. In 2000, a broad coalition of scientists petitioned the White House to create a national system of MPAs to improve conservation of the nation’s marine ecosystems, cultural resources, and fisheries. Presidential Executive Order 13158 was signed on May 26, 2000, directing the Department of Commerce to work with the Department of the Interior, other federal agencies, states, territories and stakeholders to establish a national system of MPAs to integrate and enhance the nation’s MPAs, bringing these diverse sites and programs together to work on common conservation objectives.
What are the benefits of joining the national system of MPAs?
Benefits of joining the national system include the opportunity to work with other MPAs in the region and nationally on issues of common conservation concern; greater public and international recognition of MPAs and the resources they protect; and the opportunity to influence federal and regional ocean conservation and management initiatives (such as integrated ocean observing systems, including MPAs on navigational charts, and highlighting MPA research needs). In addition, the national system provides a venue for coordinated regional planning about place-based conservation priorities, as well as an opportunity to engage stakeholders on MPA issues outside a specific proposal. It will leverage scarce resources toward cross-cutting management needs, and initiate collaborative science and technical projects to support conservation priorities. Moreover, managing MPAs as a system will improve ecological viability by identifying potential new sites that enhance connectivity among regional MPAs.
Will the national system create new MPAs?
The national system has no authority to create new MPAs. These will continue to be created under existing federal, state, territorial, tribal and local authorities. However, to ensure that the national system ultimately represents and protects the nation’s key resources and ecosystems, the MPA Center will work with partners and stakeholders on a regional basis to identify significant ecological areas and analyze gaps in our current place-based conservation efforts. MPA management agencies can then use this information to inform their plans about future protection efforts.
What is the MPA Center’s role in the national system?
The MPA Center does not manage any MPAs, but provides coordination, analytical and technical support to MPAs participating in the national system.
How are ocean and coastal stakeholders involved in the national system?
Stakeholders were extensively involved in the development of the Framework, the road map for the national system, and will continue to be involved in its implementation. In addition, a 30-member Marine Protected Areas Federal Advisory Committee made up of stakeholders from around the U.S. provides ongoing advice to the Departments of Commerce and the Interior about the national system. The Committee includes representatives of commercial and recreational fishing, state and tribal resource agencies, environmental organizations, natural and social scientists and others.
What is the role of the MPA
Federal Advisory Committee?
The MPA Federal Advisory Committee is charged by the Executive
Order with providing advice to the Departments of Commerce and
the Interior concerning implementation of Section 4 of the Executive
Order. This includes development of a national system of MPAs
(a network of federal, state, territorial, and tribal sites),
and the provision of information, tools, science, and strategies
to strengthen the stewardship of the nation’s marine protected
How are members to the MPA
Federal Advisory Committee selected?
Candidates for the MPA Federal Advisory Committee are selected
jointly by representatives of the U.S. Departments of Commerce
and the Interior. After undergoing a background investigation,
Committee members are appointed by the Secretary of the Department
of Commerce. The Committee is made up of individuals with diverse
backgrounds and experience, who represent parties interested in
use of MPAs as a management tool. Committee members, 30 in all,
serve for two-year terms. They represent a broad stakeholder community,
including scientists, academia, commercial and recreational fishermen,
other resource users, state and tribal resource managers, and
What is the National Marine Protected
Areas Center and what does it do?
The National Marine Protected Areas Center is housed within the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Its main
purpose is to provide the science, information, tools, and strategies
to assess the effectiveness of existing and any future MPAs. It supports the MPA Federal Advisory Committee,
and oversees the process to collect an inventory of marine protected
areas. It also seeks to raise the national dialog about MPAs by
working with federal and non-federal partners and communities.
What is the Marine Protected
The national Marine Protected Areas Inventory (MPA Inventory) is a database of federal,
state, commonwealth, territory, and tribal sites across the United
States. The inventory provides regional, local, state, and federal
managers, scientists, non-governmental organizations, and others
with a tool to better analyze and understand management capabilities,
effectiveness, and evaluation processes. It is the first step
for building a list of the nation’s MPAs.
Is the MPA Inventory complete?
The MPA Inventory still has gaps for some states and programs. The MPA Center is working to fill those gaps. Individuals with data are asked to contact email@example.com. The inventory will be updated annually.
Can I search the MPA Inventory?
The MPA Inventory is not currently searchable. However, the MPA Center intends to enhance the MPA Inventory over time, including adding a search function. Please come back for updates, new products, and new functions.
How does the MPA Inventory relate to the list of MPAs called for in the Executive Order?
The MPA Inventory will be used to identify existing sites and/or programs that meet the criteria for nomination to the national system and inclusion on the subsequent List of MPAs. Agency consultation and public comment processes for nominating and including MPAs in the national system are being developed via the public review process for the Revised Draft Framework.
What has happened to the Marine Managed Areas (MMA) Inventory?
The marine managed areas inventory (MMA Inventory) has been archived. It is no longer the most accurate or complete data set on Marine Protected Areas, and has been replaced by the MPA Inventory. Information in the MMA Inventory for sites that meet the criteria for MPAs was included in the MPA Inventory.
What is the difference between an MMA and an MPA?
The primary difference is the duration of the site. MMAs must provide yearly protection for at least three months out of each year, and must provide a minimum of two years protection. MPAs must be designated with the intention to become permanent. For more details, see the MPA key terms.
Who can I contact to get more information
about Marine Protected Areas?
For more information, you may send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.