Chances are you've visited a marine protected area and don't know it. If you've gone fishing in central California, diving in the Florida Keys, camping in Acadia, swimming in Cape Cod, snorkeling in the Virgin Islands, birding in Weeks Bay, hiking along the Olympic Coast or boating in Thunder Bay, you've probably been one of thousands of visitors to a marine protected area (MPA). Learn more about marine protected areas.

What is an MPA?

National Marine Protected Areas Center

"Marine protected area" is a broad term that encompasses a variety of conservation and management methods in the United States. MPA Executive Order 13158 defines an MPA as: "... any area of the marine environment that has been reserved by federal, state, territorial, tribal, or local laws or regulations to provide lasting protection for part or all of the natural and cultural resources therein." The Framework for the National System of MPAs further defines the following key terms in this definition: area, marine environment, reserved, lasting and protection.

MPA Programs

Examples of MPA programs include federal programs including national marine sanctuaries, National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, and marine national monuments; partnership programs like the National Estuarine Research Reserves; and the state counterparts to these programs. 

National Marine Protected Areas Center

The National Marine Protected Areas (MPA) Center is the nation's hub for building innovative partnerships and tools to protect special ocean places. The Center works in partnership with the federal, state, tribal and local governments, tribes and stakeholders to develop and implement a national system of MPAs. These collaborative efforts help ensure more efficient, effective use of MPAs now and in the future to conserve and sustain the nation's vital marine resources.

The MPA Center has three goals, based on Executive Order 13158:

  • Build and maintain the national system of MPAs;
  • Improve MPA stewardship and effectiveness;
  • Facilitate international, national and regional coordination of MPA activities.

To carry out these goals, the MPA Center focuses on three primary functions:

  • Building capacity of federal and state marine protected area programs to more effectively manage natural and cultural marine resources.
  • Communicating with and engaging stakeholders to help connect marine protected areas to communities.
  • Serving as a unique and neutral source of marine protected area-related science, information and tools for coastal and ocean decision-makers.

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