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A Snapshot of U.S. Marine Protected Areas

New report highlights innovative work to protect special ocean areas around the nation.

Butterfly fish; photo by Greg McFall

Conserving Our Oceans, One Place at a Time

The new report focuses on the role of U.S. Marine Protected Areas in protecting natural heritage, cultural resources, and values.

NOAA's National Marine Protected Areas (MPA) Center recently released a new report on the state of MPAs in the United States. Marine Protected Areas of the United States: Conserving Our Oceans, One Place at a Time, provides a detailed snapshot of the coverage, level of protection, protected resources, and ecological representativeness of MPAs in U.S. waters. It also features brief case studies in MPA management from around the country.

"This report provides a big picture perspective on our collective efforts to protect special places in the ocean, as well as highlights the innovative work being done by MPA programs around the country," says Lauren Wenzel, Acting Director of the National MPA Center.

The report data focuses specifically on U.S. MPAs for natural heritage – including ecosystems, biodiversity, habitats, and species – as well as MPAs for cultural resources and values. The focus on both natural and cultural heritage MPAs allows greater comparability with the accepted international definition of MPAs as established by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). While the United States also has MPAs that focus on fisheries management, the IUCN definition does not include this type of MPA.

Currently, U.S. MPAs focused on natural and cultural heritage cover approximately 8 percent of U.S. waters. International targets for MPA coverage established through the Convention on Biological Diversity and other commitments call for 10 percent of ocean and coastal areas to be conserved within MPAs by the year 2020. 

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Marine protected areas are special places in our oceans. Whether they've been set aside to protect endangered species, sensitive habitats, cultural heritage, or all of these reasons, they belong to all of us. MPAs also have many stories to tell about our nation's connections to the sea, and the ways our ocean continues to sustain us. Learn more