US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
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Science & Stewardship

  > Science & Stewardship


One issue that has been a popular topic of debate is how to use marine protected areas (MPAs) to conserve our natural and cultural marine resources. One of the big questions people often ask about MPAs is whether or not they really work. This question leads us to look at existing scientific research, from both natural and social science, to see what that research is saying about MPAs on a national level. Since the MPA Center was established in 2001, it has been using science to assess the nature of MPAs and their use in sustaining healthy marine ecosystems.

Stewardship is defined in the Framework as "careful and responsible management to ensure goals and objectives are being achieved for the benefit of current and future generations." The MPA Center focuses its objectives on enhancing MPA stewardship by strengthening capacity for planning, management and evaluation.

The following are areas of scientific and stewardship focus for the MPA Center. Click on each link to read more.

Ocean Uses Atlas

The California Ocean Uses Atlas Project is an innovative public-private partnership between NOAA's Marine Protected Areas Center and Marine Conservation Biology Institute. The Atlas project fills a critical information gap in ocean management by mapping, for the first time, the full range of significant human uses of the ocean in state and federal waters of the coast of California. For additional information, click here.

Cultural Heritage MPAs

Marine protected areas can encompass an area that has been set aside because a ship, aircraft, or other cultural artifact rests on or is embedded within the sea floor. These resources also may be embedded within a federal MPA, or where authority exists, as state MPAs established for natural heritage conservation purposes. For additional information on the MPA Center's work to preserve cultural and historic resources, click here.

Identifying Conservation Gaps

The national system has two primary areas of focus: strengthening and coordinating existing MPAs, and identifying conservation gaps, significant natural and cultural resources, or resource areas where additional protection may be needed. The MPA Center will conduct a transparent, science-based gap analysis process with partners in each region, with stakeholder involvement. The initial ecological gap analysis will be a demonstration effort conducted along the west coast. For additional information, click here.

GIS for Marine Protected Areas The MPA Center uses geographic information systems (GIS) to manage information related to marine protected areas throughout the United States to help better understand the spatial patterns of MPAs, the resources they protect and the effectiveness of MPAs as a marine management tool. For more information on specific MPA Center GIS products, click here.

Navigating MPAs

Working with NOAA's Office of Coast Survey, the MPA Center is incorporating key information about the location, purpose, and allowable activities in existing MPAs into NOAA's navigational charts and products. To see specific projects the MPA Center is working on, click here.

MPA Effectiveness

MPAs globally face many challenges in achieving their objectives. For example, there may be insufficient financial and technical resources, lack of trained staff, or lack of data for management decisions. The management of MPAs must be effective in order to address these challenges and realize the benefits protected areas can provide. For additional information on MPA effectiveness, including MPA Center activities and resources, click here.

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