Why Are Marine Protected Areas Important?
Happy (late) World Oceans Day! This week, it is paramount to discuss the importance of marine protected areas. There are a number of protected areas in the ocean and in some freshwater areas that help marine wildlife thrive. We have heard of these areas called “Marine Protected Areas” or MPAs. An MPA by definition is an area of the ocean where the government has placed limits on human activity (National Geographic). MPAs can come in a variety of forms with varying levels of protection, restrictions, and activities. They affect the jobs of many people, animals in all ocean habitats, and tourists. But are they effective? How much of our ocean falls into this category? Let’s dive in and see.
Logistics of MPAs
Marine protected areas can come in many forms. The areas can be found and implemented in just about every oceanic habitat (and in great lakes!). Examples of marine protected areas are marine sanctuaries, estuarine research reserves, ocean parks, and marine wildlife refuges (NOAA). There are 1,700 MPAs worldwide. They are designed to protect, conserve, and restore areas where anthropogenic activity has depleted the success and safety of that area. Additionally, they can be created to protect cultural and natural resources.
What is beautiful about MPAs is that although they are under restrictions for their protection, they are often highly explored by humans and marine biologists. Think of (some of) them in a similar way you would think of a National Park. MPAs are sometimes highly explored tourist destinations, popular fishing spots for locals, or protected marine monuments and historical sights. Most recreational activities are allowed within an MPA, depending on the individual area and its restrictions.
Only 4-7% of the ocean is protected within an MPA. Within that percentage, an even smaller amount is considered a “no-take zone.” A no-take zone is the highest amount of protection in a marine protected area. Marine reserves are usually no-take zones. The extra protection within a no-take zone prohibits any sort of removal in that area. NOAA says, “Extractive activities include fishing, hunting, logging, mining, and drilling. Shell collecting and archaeological digging are also extractives.” This is effective because it allows for regrowth, biodiversity, natural balance in a healthy food chain, and the opportunity for scientists to study a part of the ocean in its prime, unaffected by human activity.
MPAs: Are They the MVP?
For how successful marine protected areas have been, they are very disproportionate to the amount of ocean on our planet. Around the world, they have helped fish populations increase, coral reefs’ quality restore, and bring back the balance of larger predatory fish such as sharks! Not only does this benefit marine wildlife, but in turn the humans that rely on the ocean for their livelihood. Oceana talked to a fisherman who claimed his catch doubled after years of being in a protected area. In certain MPAs fishing is allowed but the amount and timing of the year may be regulated.
MPAs can also promote a lot of tourism! Some of the most sought after tourist destinations in the world are because of MPAs! Please visit this link to see the most respectful ways to explore MPAs and what to keep in mind while exploring nature.
National Geographic said, “ Designating an area as an MPA is also one way to preserve and promote biodiversity, which makes ecosystems healthier.” For marine protected areas to be more successful in helping our oceans, we simply need MORE of them. The MPAs in effect have proven scientifically, socially, and fiscally that they are successful and beneficial for the economy, job market, and well-being of wildlife.
Photo Source: World Wildlife Fund
Recent News Regarding MPAs
Last Friday, the Trump Administration announced that he will remove the previous protection from a marine protected area off of the eastern coast of the United States. The MPA was created by Barack Obama in 2016. This particular MPA is almost 5,000 miles in length. It is called the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. Marine biologists and environmental advocates have concluded that this MPA was extremely fragile and necessary for endangered animals such as the southern right whale, sea turtles, and almost 50 species of delicate, deep-sea corals. Removing this protection would be absolutely detrimental to the surrounding ecosystems and the health of the ocean. The commercial fishing in this area has previously devastated it; which called for the original MPA to be put into place years ago.
To see some resources and organizations supporting international MPA efforts, please click here.
Here is a graphic from NOAA highlighting the marine protected areas in the United States.
Thank you for taking the time to read our blog post. If you’re interested in learning more about marine protected areas, please enjoy an informational video by Oceana that can be found here. Have an amazing week, shark enthusiasts!
Written By: Bailey Higa