U.S. MPA Classification System

Hōlei Sea Arch with viewing area. Credit: S. Geiger, NPS

In an attempt to clarify discussion about various MPA issues, the National Marine Protected Areas Center developed a set of simple definitions for common MPA types that are intended to provide an objective and intuitive way to understand, describe, and constructively assess most MPAs found in the United States.

This classification system is:

  • simple, consistent and intuitive
  • an accurate reflection of MPA goals and approaches
  • a tool to allow an objective assessment of the impacts of proposed MPAs on ecosystems and users
  • one that doesn't overlap with programmatic names
  • one that has minimal connotations

The MPA classification system was created to simplify the often confusing diversity of MPA terminology by focusing on a few key functional features that together describe those aspects of the MPA that are of greatest concern to stakeholders, agencies, and scientists. The classification system uses five fundamental design characteristics, and options within them, that can be used to describe any MPA. The main two characteristics are Conservation Focus and Level of Protection.

Learn more about the five fundamental characteristics of U.S. MPAs.

There are other classification systems in use worldwide. Learn about the World Conservation Union's (IUCN)guidelines, or visit the IUCN's protected areas section.

For More Information

Write to mpainfo@noaa.gov