US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

About Marine Protected Areas

  > About MPAs

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).

Click here to download a brochure on marine protected areas.


Some people interpret marine protected areas to mean areas closed to all human activities. Others interpret them as special areas established for conservation, but allowing specific recreation and commercial uses, much like national parks. In reality, "marine protected area" is a term that encompasses a variety of conservation and management methods in the United States.

Case Studies

This collection of case studies represents a cross section of the different types of sites listed in the MPA Inventory. The case studies examine the history behind a site's designation as a marine protected area, discuss the techniques used to manage the site's resources, and identify major management issues facing the site. The case studies include two national marine sanctuaries, one managed for its biological value and one for its cultural resources, a national estuarine research reserve, and an experimental fisheries management area.


The National Marine Protected Areas Center has developed a Classification System that provides agencies and stakeholders with a straightforward means to describe MPAs in purely functional terms using five objective characteristics common to most MPAs: 1) conservation focus; 2) level of protection; 3) permanence of protection; 4) constancy of protection; and 5) ecological scale of protection.

Get Involved

Find more information about things you can do to help our oceans and marine protected areas.


Framework for the National System of MPAs
MPA Programs
About the MPA Center
U.S. Classification System
Fact Sheets

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