Megan Jungwi

Where are the World’s MPAs?

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are a way to designate parts of the ocean as important or useful. Different types of MPAs can involve different levels of protection – from stringent no-take areas to more laissez-faire marine managed areas. However, whatever the level of management, simply designating an area an MPA can be an important first step to future discussions on how a community should use and protect their natural resources. Acknowledging the importance of MPAs, various organizations would like to see more of them. A quick look around the world shows that most of the world’s oceans are still unprotected and unmanaged.

How much of the Ocean is Designated an MPA?

Most of the planet is covered in ocean and a large part of that ocean is far from the coast – out of sight and out of mind. However, even those bits of the ocean that are far from everybody provide important resources including carbon capture, fisheries, and important habitats. There are currently thousands of MPAs in the world – but only 1.8% of the world’s oceans are protected. Even looking at just the world’s coasts shows large swaths of marine areas that are not sustainably managed.

Where are these MPAs?

Divers may be interested in MPAs as these areas often have healthier reefs, more wildlife, and larger fish. The Marine Conservation Institute has recently launched MPAtlas so that interested folks can locate and learn more about individual MPAs. The site includes an interactive map connected to an MPA Encyclopedia. Some notable MPAs – simple for their size – include the Great Barrier Reef in Australia (345,000 sq km), the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in Hawaii (362,074 sq km), the Phoenix Islands in Kiribati (408,250 sq km), and the UK’s South Georgia & South Sandwich Islands MPA (1,000,700 sq km).

Should there be more MPAs?

A lot of conservationists would argue that yes, there ought to be more MPAs. Establishing marine protected areas isn’t completely without controversy – many MPAs lack the funding and resources to really enforce their rules. These so-called ‘paper MPAs’ can allow people to say their establishing conservation measures when really no benefits are occurring on the ground. However, for the most part, well-funded and well-organized MPAs can do a lot of good. Lots of conservation organizations support their creation. Perhaps one of the most well-known projects is Mission Blue, established by the renowned scientist and deep sea explorer, Sylvia Earle. Mission Blue was established in response to Sylvia Earle’s 2009 TED Prize wish, urging the public to use any means at their disposal to create a campaign in support of MPAs. Visit Mission Blue  to help Dr. Earle achieve her wish.


Photo Credits: eutrophication&hypoxia & mLu

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