Marine protected areas are defined areas where natural or cultural resources are given greater protection than the surrounding waters.
There are over 1,700 marine protected areas, or MPAs, in the U.S. that cover approximately 41 percent of marine waters. Many of these are fishery MPAs, which cover large ocean areas. MPAs that are focused on the protection of ecosystem, biodiversity, and cultural resources cover about eight percent of marine waters. 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 National Monument, which is one of the largest marine conservation areas in the world.
MPAs are not strictly located in marine waters. Several are located within the Great Lakes. Most of the Great Lakes MPAs were created to protect cultural resources, like shipwrecks and historical artifacts. One example of a Great Lakes MPA is the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which protects more than 160 shipwrecks.
The National MPA Center has inventoried all of the existing U.S. MPAs and found that 77 percent of these areas are managed by coastal states and territories, 15 percent are under federal jurisdiction, and the rest are managed by state/federal partnerships. Many state MPAs were created to protect specific coastal habitats and resources, such as beaches and nesting bird habitats. Most of the federally managed MPAs include sites such as national marine sanctuaries, national parks, seashores and wildlife refuges, and federal fishery closures.