Where are marine protected areas located?

Marine protected areas span a range of habitats, including the open ocean, coastal areas, intertidal zones, estuaries, and the Great Lakes.

Marine protected area

Marine protected areas are defined areas where human activities are managed to protect important natural or cultural resources.

There are approximately 1,000 marine protected areas, or MPAs, located throughout the United States. MPAs cover about 26 percent of U.S. waters. The vast majority of this area is located in the remote Pacific, home of two of the largest marine conservation areas in the world: Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument and the Pacific Remote Marine National Monument.

MPAs serve to protect coastal and ocean habitats and species, while providing recreational opportunities. NOAA's national marine sanctuaries form one component of the MPA network. There are 15 sanctuary sites in areas ranging from American Samoa to Stellwagen Bank off Cape Cod in Massachusetts. MPAs also include national estuarine research reserves, which protect valuable coastal habitat through a national network for research, education, and stewardship. Several MPAs are also located within the Great Lakes, created to protect cultural resources such as shipwrecks and historical artifacts. One example of a Great Lakes MPA is the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which protects more than 150 shipwrecks. MPAs may also include national wildlife refuges, national parks, and state-managed areas.

As MPAs experience climate impacts, managing the connections between them is increasingly important. A report by the National MPA Center describes steps toward building effective conservation networks through existing and new MPAs for a more resilient and healthier ocean.

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Last updated: 03/18/21
Author: NOAA
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