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 34 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 deep or coastal marine waters. There are six federal MPAs and more than 30 state-managed MPAs 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. This MPA was created to protect the more than 160 shipwrecks it contains.
The National MPA Center has inventoried all of the existing U.S. MPAs and found that almost 70 percent of these areas are managed by coastal states and territories, while fewer than 30 percent are under federal jurisdiction. Many state MPAs were created to protect specific coastal habitats and resources, like beaches and nesting bird habitats. Most of the federally managed MPAs include sites like the national marine sanctuaries, national parks, seashores and wildlife refuges, and federal fishery closures.
For more information:
Marine Protected Areas Center
Office of National Marine Sanctuaries
Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management
Diving Deeper Podcast, Episode 2 (Feb. 9, 2009) - What Is a Marine Protected Area?