The United States is developing a national system of marine protected areas to advance the conservation and sustainable use of the nation's vital natural and cultural marine resources.
A blueprint for establishing a national system of marine protected areas (MPAs) was finalized on Nov. 19, establishing a more efficient and effective approach to conservation of the nation's important natural and cultural marine resources.
The Framework for the National System of Marine Protected Areas of the United States of America sets national goals and guidance for a wide range of partnerships among federal, state, tribal, and local governments and stakeholders to develop an effective national system of MPAs.
MPAs are defined areas where natural or cultural resources are given greater protection than the surrounding waters. In the U.S., these areas may span a range of habitats including the open ocean, coastal areas, inter-tidal zones, estuaries, and the Great Lakes.
The document, the result of years of effort and coordination, highlights a new focus on working across jurisdictions to conserve the nation's ocean heritage for future generations. The national system of MPAs will not only enhance conservation and collaboration, but also will identify biologically or culturally important areas that are currently not adequately protected.
Advice on the development of the national system and the Framework came from public comments and a 30-member MPA Federal Advisory Committee (MPA FAC) - a group composed of natural and social scientists, state and tribal resource managers, commercial fishermen, anglers, energy and tourism industry representatives, divers, and environmentalists.
MPAs provide safe havens for marine animals such as humpback whales.
NOAA's National Marine Protected Areas Center led the development of the Framework on behalf of the departments of Commerce and Interior, and in consultation with federal agencies, coastal states and territories, tribes, federal Fishery Management Councils, and the public.
The national system does not establish any new legal authorities to designate MPAs, but provides a mechanism for MPAs across all levels of government to work together more effectively to achieve common goals.
The Department of Commerce, through NOAA, and the Department of the Interior will build the national system gradually over time. Priority conservation objectives, identified in the Framework document, will guide the development of the national system and identify existing MPAs to be included, as well as conservation gaps which might be addressed through the establishment of new MPAs.
The release of the final Framework also marks the start of a nomination process for sites to join the national system. Federal or state managing agencies are invited to nominate MPAs that meet eligibility criteria defined in the Framework. All nominated sites will be available for public comment.
MPAs that are accepted into the national system will be the focus of cooperative efforts to address common resource management challenges and will be placed on the official List of National System MPAs, which will be available to the public via the Federal Register and on the Marine Protected Areas Web site.