The majority of marine protected areas in the United States are multiple-use sites, meaning fishing, boating, surfing, diving, and other recreational activities are allowed.
Marine protected areas (MPAs) in the U.S. come in a variety of forms and are established and managed by all levels of government. There are marine sanctuaries, estuarine research reserves, ocean parks, and marine wildlife refuges. Each of these sites differ. MPAs may be established to protect ecosystems, preserve cultural resources such as shipwrecks and archaeological sites, or sustain fisheries production.
There is often confusion and debate regarding what the term "marine protected area" really means. Some people interpret MPAs to mean areas closed to all human activities, while others interpret them as special areas set aside for recreation (e.g., national parks) or to sustain commercial use (e.g., fishery management areas). These are just a few examples of the many types of MPAs.
In reality, “marine protected area” is a term that encompasses a variety of conservation and management methods in the United States. If you have been fishing in central California, diving near a shipwreck in the Florida Keys, camping in Acadia, snorkeling in the Virgin Islands, or hiking along the Olympic Coast, you were probably one of thousands of visitors to an MPA.
In the U.S., MPAs span a range of habitats, including the open ocean, coastal areas, inter-tidal zones, estuaries, and the Great Lakes. They also vary widely in purpose, legal authorities, agencies, management approaches, level of protection, and restrictions on human uses.
For more information:
MPAs: Evolving Efforts to Manage Marine Resources, NOAA 200th Anniversary Web Site
Marine Protected Areas Center
Marine Protected Areas Virtual Library
Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management
MPA Case Studies
Executive Order 13158 on marine protected areas (pdf, 140kb)