New analysis shows eight percent of U.S. marine waters protected

Posted May 18, 2012, at 4:29 p.m.

New analysis of updated data has shown that eight percent of U.S. waters are currently designated as marine protected areas with the vast majority of these areas open to fishing and other activities, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration press release.

U.S. sites are cataloged in the recently updated MPA Inventory, available online.

“These data show that the U.S. has a representative network of MPAs, both geographically and for different purposes, and eight percent is good progress,” says Lauren Wenzel, acting director of the National Marine Protected Areas Center. “We need to make sure that we’ve protected examples of all of our diverse ecosystems and habitats and that existing MPAs are effectively managed.”

The eight percent figure does not include MPAs specifically established to sustain fisheries production, which often have specific restrictions on fishing gear over large ocean areas. Other inventory analyses including these fishery MPAs, however, show that 92 percent of the area within U.S. MPAs allows some type of activity, and 85 percent is open to fishing.

The analysis also showed that more than two-thirds of all U.S. MPAs were created, at least in part, to conserve natural heritage values, such as biodiversity, ecosystems, or protected species. About a quarter of sites focus on sustainable production, such as those established to recover overfished stocks, protect species readily taken as bycatch, or preserve essential fish habitats, while the remaining approximately 10 percent were established to conserve our nation’s cultural heritage.

Data in the updated MPA Inventory are available in tabular and spatial form, and can be viewed through the MPA Center’s interactive MPA mapping tool. The mapping tool allows users to see all the MPAs in a specific location or region and to search for specific attributes, including conservation purpose, managing agency and level of protection, among others.

Marine Protected Areas are defined areas where natural and/or cultural resources are given greater protection than the surrounding waters.

“The MPA inventory and mapping tool give both planners and the public an easy way to see the big picture of all the marine protected areas in our oceans and along our coasts. By including MPAs from all federal and state agencies, managers can better cooperate to protect shared resources, and the public can easily find their local MPAs and see the types of uses they allow,” said David M. Kennedy, assistant NOAA administrator for the National Ocean Service.

Developed with extensive input from state and federal MPA programs and drawn from other publicly available data, the MPA inventory contains information on more than 1,700 sites and is the only such comprehensive dataset in the nation. Information in the inventory is current as of March 2012.

MPAs are conservation areas that include the marine environment, such as some national parks and national wildlife refuges, national marine sanctuaries and similar areas managed by state, local and tribal governments. They protect natural and cultural marine resources, and many allow a variety of activities such as fishing, recreation and research.