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.

The national system of MPAs:

  • enhances protection of U.S. marine resources by providing new opportunities for regional and national cooperation;
  • supports the national economy by helping to sustain fisheries and maintain healthy marine ecosystems for tourism and recreation businesses; and
  • promotes public participation in MPA decision-making by improving access to scientific and public policy information.

The purpose of the national system is to support the effective stewardship, conservation, restoration, sustainable use, and public understanding and appreciation of the nation's significant natural and cultural marine heritage and sustainable production marine resources, with due consideration of the interests of and implications for all who use, benefit from, and care about our marine environment.

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

Click here for Frequently Asked Questions about the National System of MPAs

Benefits of a National System of MPAs

The National System provides benefits to the nation, to participating MPAs, and to ocean stakeholders. Examples of some of these benefits include:

  • Enhanced stewardship through better coordination, public awareness and enhanced site management capacity
  • Building partnerships for MPAs to work together toward common conservation objectives including access to participation in broader geographic coordination and planning activities,
  • Increased support for marine conservation through the recognition provided by the national system
  • Protecting representative ecosystems and resources from all the nation's ecosystem and habitat types
  • Identifying gaps in current protection of ocean resources to help inform future MPA planning
  • Principles for MPA planning including science-based balanced stakeholder participation

Nomination Process

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.

Public Participation

The MPA Center works with and solicits input from federal, state, tribal, and local government partners, Fishery Management Councils, stakeholder groups, and the general public about the national system.

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. Development of the List of MPAs is required by Section 4(d) of Executive Order 13158.


MPA Executive Order 13158
Framework for the National System of MPAs
Definition of Marine Protected Area
Marine Protected Areas Inventory
Fact Sheets
Archive: Draft Framework and Revised Draft Framework

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