US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

About the National System of Marine Protected Areas

  > National System

The United States has developed a national system of marine protected areas (MPAs) to advance the conservation and sustainable use of the nation's vital natural and cultural marine resources. The national system is described in detail in the Framework for a National System of Marine Protected Areas for the United States, now being updated.

The purpose of the National System is to build management capacity among MPA programs, coordinate collaborative efforts to address common management issues and identify ecosystem-based gaps in the protection of significant natural and cultural resources for possible future action by the nation's MPA authorities.

The goals of the national system are to conserve and manage:

  • Natural heritage – the nation's biological communities, habitats, ecosystems, and processes and the ecological services, values and uses they provide
  • Cultural heritagecultural resources that reflect the nation's maritime history and traditional cultural connections to the sea, as well as the uses and values they provide
  • Sustainable production – the nation's renewable living resources and their habitats (including, but not limited to, spawning, mating, and nursery grounds and areas established to minimize bycatch of species) and the social, cultural and economic values and services they provide

Frequently Asked Questions about the National System of MPAs

Benefits of a National System of MPAs

Joining the National System

Eligible MPA Programs are invited to nominate their sites to be part of the national system of MPAs. The nomination process is transparent, science-based, and provides an opportunity for public comment.

List of National System Sites

The list of National System MPAs is the official inventory of all MPAs that have been formally included in and recognized as part of the National System of MPAs. This list is a subset of all of the MPAs in U.S. waters, which are summarized in the MPA Inventory.

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