For More Information

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)

National System of MPAs

MPA Glossary

MPA Inventory of Sites

MPA Virtual Library

MPA Case Study of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary

MPA Case Study of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

MPA Case Study of South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve

MPA Case Study of Experimental Oculina Bank Research Reserve

Marine Protected Areas

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The mission of the National Marine Protected Areas Center is to facilitate the effective use of science, technology, training, and information in the planning, management and evaluation of the nation's system of marine protected areas.

NOAA's National Ocean Service (NOS) plays a major role in implementing presidential Executive Order 13158 (pdf, 140kb) on marine protected areas (MPAs), issued in May 2000. The executive order was issued to help protect the significant natural and cultural resources within the marine environment for the benefit of present and future generations. The order directs the Department of Commerce, the Department of the Interior, and other federal agencies to work closely with states, territories, tribes, fishery management councils, and groups with an interest in marine resource conservation to develop a scientifically based, comprehensive National System of MPAs representing diverse U.S. marine ecosystems.  An effective national system will help existing MPA sites, programs, and stakeholders work together to better share information and coordinate their MPA management efforts, develop the necessary scientific information to make more informed management decisions, and improve the stewardship and effectiveness of existing MPAs, addressing resource problems that cannot be solved by individual MPAs programs.


In cooperation with the Department of the Interior, NOS established the National MPA Center to provide information, tools and strategies for the effective design and management of the nation's MPAs. The MPA Center implements most of the mandates set forth by the executive order.


The majority of marine protected areas in the United States are multiple-use sites, meaning fishing, boating, surfing, diving, and other recreational activities are allowed.

In its effort to develop the national system of MPAs, the MPA Center reaches out to stakeholders nationwide to gather input on uses, values, and resources to consider while planning the national system. The MPA Center has met with representatives from federal and state/territory agencies, tribes, fisheries management councils and commissions, non-governmental organizations, industry, science, academia, and coastal communities in many regions of the country. 

The MPA Center is reviewing its inventory of existing marine managed areas, identifying all areas that meet the criteria for entry into the national system.  The MPA Center will then work with interested MPA Programs who nominate sites that meet the criteria and address the highest priorities for the national system.  This national system will work with the MPA Center to identify specific actions to enhance the management and coordination of these initial sites.  Additional sites and programs will be added to the national system over time.

NOAA also maintains a Web site that provides access to the inventory, as well as access to a Virtual Library on MPAs. Included in the inventory are the 13 national marine sanctuaries, managed directly by NOS, 27 national estuarine research reserves, managed by states in partnership with NOS, and data on many coastal and Great Lakes states (data collection for states is ongoing). NOAA Fisheries, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service manage other MPAs listed in the inventory. The Web site also provides information on how MPAs are classified, as well as descriptive case studies on selected MPAs