If you’ve ever been fishing in central California, snorkeling in the Virgin Islands, or hiking along the Olympic Coast, you’ve been to a Marine Protected Area (MPA). Created to preserve biodiversity and sustain fish populations, today over 1,700 MPAs have been established throughout the United States. They cover 34% of our marine waters and span a range of habitats, including the open ocean, coastal areas, inter-tidal zones, estuaries, and the Great Lakes.
Not only do MPAs provide recreational and economic opportunities for millions of people, they also sustain critical habitats and marine resources. By protecting marine life from destructive human activities, MPAs act as an insurance policy to ensure that our oceans—selected areas of them, at least—will continue to thrive for future generations to enjoy.
Less than 1% of international waters (beyond countries' territories) are protected. As awareness grows, an increasing number of countries are seeking cross-national solutions: in 2000, the island nations of the Caribbean made a resolution to preserve 20% of their shared marine environment by 2020.
MPAs are found in every region of the United States. Although the West Coast has the most MPAs, the largest marine protected area is located in the Pacific Islands.
The largest marine protected area in the world is the Phoenix Island Protected Area, a California-sized stretch of atolls owned by the Republic of Kiribati.
MPAs benefit coastal areas by improving fish yields, creating new jobs, and human health.