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  > Resources  > Glossary

Aquatic Protected Area: A marine protected area consisting of freshwater resources.

Area: Must have legally defined geographical boundaries, and may be of any size, except that the site must be a subset of the U.S. federal, state, commonwealth, territorial, local, or tribal marine environment in which it is located.

Avoid Harm: Executive Order 13158 mandates that each federal agency whose actions affect an MPA shall, to the extent permitted by law and to the maximum extent practicable, avoid harm to the natural and cultural resources protected by that MPA.

Benthic: Pertaining to the environment of the sea floor or lake bottom and adjacent waters, and the organisms that reside there.

Biodiversity: The species number, variety, and essential interdependence of all living things. Includes the number and variety of living organisms, the genetic differences among them, the communities and ecosystems in which they occur, and the ecological and evolutionary processes that keep them functioning.

Coastal Planning Areas: Distinct geographic locations subject to site-specific, ongoing management and/or regulatory planning within legally defined, fixed boundaries that include upland and marine/intertidal components. Coastal Planning Areas are similar to Marine Planning Areas, but involve plans for land management or land use recommendations, policies, and/or guidelines aimed at protecting coastal and marine resources from development impacts and impaired water quality. (See Coastal Zone Management Act)

Coastal Waters: In the Great Lakes region, the waters within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States consisting of the Great Lakes, their connecting waters, harbors, roadsteads, and estuary-type areas such as bays, shallows, and marshes are considered coastal waters. In other areas, those waters adjacent to the shorelines, which contain a measurable quantity or percentage of sea water, including, but not limited to, sounds, bays, lagoons, bayous, ponds, and estuaries are considered coastal waters.

Coastal Zone Management Act: A federal authority that establishes the Coastal Zone Management Program and the National Estuarine Research Reserve System. It provides a framework for decision-making that balances coastal resource use and conservation.

Coral Reefs: Large living structures of calcium carbonate produced primarily by coral polyps. Polyps are tiny animals that build and surround themselves with an outer skeleton of calcium carbonate. Over time, repeated deposition of these skeletons form the rocklike structure of the reef. Coral reefs can range in size from a few feet to thousands of miles.

Critical Habitat: Defined under the Endangered Species Act, critical habitat is "the specific areas within the geographic area occupied by a species on which are found those physical and biological features essential to the conservation of the species, and that may require special management considerations or protection; and specific areas outside the geographic area occupied by a species at the time it is listed, upon determination that such areas are essential for the conservation of the species."

Cultural Heritage: The cultural resources that reflect the nation's maritime history and traditional cultural connections to the sea, as well as the uses and values they provide to this and future generations.

Cultural Resource: A tangible entity that is valued by or significantly representative of a culture, or that contains significant information about a culture. Cultural resources for purposes of MPA Executive Order 13158 are tangible entities at least 50 years in age that reflect the nation's maritime history and traditional cultural connections to the sea, such as archaeological sites, historic structures, shipwrecks, artifacts, and traditional cultural properties. Cultural resources are categorized as districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects for the National Register of Historic Places, and as archaeological resources, cultural landscapes, structures, and ethnographic resources for MPA management purposes.

De Facto MPA: Delineated areas of the marine environment where human access is restricted or where specific activities or uses are regulated for reasons other than conservation or natural or cultural resource management.

Duration of Protection: Also "Lasting Protection." Site must be established with the intent at the time of designation to provide permanent protection.

Ecosystem: A community of organisms (animals, plants, and micro-organisms), including humans, interacting with each other and their physical environment.

Ecological Network: A set of discrete MPAs within a region that are connected through dispersal of reproductive stages (eggs, larvae, spores, etc.) or movement of juveniles and adults. The effective management of certain marine species may require networks of discrete MPAs encompassing regional connections of local populations linked by dispersal and movement, which may be essential for some local populations to persist. The creation of MPA networks must take into consideration other non-MPA areas that provide similar linkages, which does not necessarily imply additional management measures outside MPAs or the creation of a "super MPA" with boundaries encompassing all MPAs in the network.

Ecological Resilience: The capacity of an ecosystem or natural population to resist or recover from major changes in structure and function following natural and human-caused disturbances, without undergoing a shift to a vastly different regime that is undesirable and very difficult to reverse from a human perspective

Essential Fish Habitat (EFH): Authorized by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, EFH are those waters and substrate necessary to fish for spawning, breeding, feeding, or growth to maturity. "Waters" include aquatic areas and their associated physical, chemical, and biological properties that are used by fish and may include aquatic areas historically used by fish, where appropriate; "substrate" includes sediment, hard bottom, structures underlying the waters, and associated biological communities; "necessary" means the habitat required to support a sustainable fishery and the managed species' contribution to a healthy ecosystem; and "spawning, breeding, feeding, or growth to maturity" covers a species' full life cycle.

Estuary: A partially enclosed body of water where saltwater from the sea mixes with freshwater from rivers, streams and creeks. These areas are subject to tidal forces, like the sea, but are sheltered from the full force of ocean winds and waves by the coastline, marshes, and wetlands. (Note: Estuary-like areas of the Great Lakes also are included in the national system based on a definition from the Coastal Zone Management Act.)

Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ): The assertion of jurisdiction under the EEZ (3 nautical miles/3.45 statute miles to 200 nautical miles/230.16 statute miles offshore) provides a basis for U.S. economic exploration and exploitation, scientific research, and protection of the environment. While coastal states have primary jurisdiction and control over the first three miles of the EEZ and the federal government has primary jurisdiction over and controls the remaining 197 miles, the Coastal Zone Management Act provides coastal states with substantial authority to influence federal actions beyond three nautical miles.

Executive Orders: Numbered consecutively, Executive Orders (EOs) are legally binding orders given by the President, acting as the head of the Executive Branch, to Federal Administrative Agencies. Executive Orders are generally used to direct federal agencies and officials in their execution of congressionally established laws or policies.

Federal Advisory Committee Act: Authorizes the establishment of a system governing the creation and operation of advisory committees in the executive branch of the federal government. Federal Advisory Committees provide a useful and beneficial means of furnishing expert advice, ideas, and diverse opinions to the federal government.

Fishery Closure Area: A fishery closed or restricted by a government entity. Such closure prohibits fishing for commercial, recreational, or subsistence purposes.

Fishery Management Councils: Regional councils which were established under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Each of the eight councils is individually responsible for recommending the regulation of fisheries in federal waters within its jurisdiction with the approval of the Secretary of Commerce.

Fishery Management Zone: Areas where fishing for some or all species is prohibited to protect critical habitats, rebuild fish stocks, ensure against overfishing, or enhance fishery yield. The closure to fishing may not be permanent, depending on how fish stocks respond.


Geographic Information System (GIS): A system of hardware, software, and procedures designed to support the capture, management, manipulation, analysis, modeling, and display of spatially referenced data for solving complex planning and management problems.

Habitat: The place and its associated environmental conditions where an organism naturally lives, grows, and reproduces; such conditions include characteristics of the soil, water, and biologic community (for example, other plants and animals).

Habitat Areas of Particular Concern (HAPC): A habitat area designated by a Fishery Management Council under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976 to help focus conservation efforts in localized areas that are vulnerable to degradation or are especially important ecologically.

Intertidal: Refers to the environment between high and low tides (mean high water and mean low water) that is alternately exposed to the air and to the sea. Lakeshore: The shore of a lake.

Large Marine Ecosystems: Regions of ocean space encompassing coastal areas from the river basins and estuaries out to the seaward boundary and continental shelves and to the seaward margins of coastal current systems. They are relatively large regions on the order of 200,000 square kilometers or greater, characterized by distinct bathymetry, hydrography, productivity, and trophically dependent populations.

Lasting: For purposes of national system natural heritage and cultural heritage MPAs, the site's authority must clearly state its intent to provide permanent protection. For national system sustainable production MPAs, the site must be established with the intent at the time of designation to provide, at a minimum, the duration of protection necessary to achieve the mandated long-term sustainable production objectives for which the site was established.

Local Government: A legally-established unit of government at a level below state or territory government, including but not limited to, county, city, town, or village.

List of National System MPAs: The List of National System MPAs is the official inventory of all MPAs that have been formally recognized as part of the national system. The MPAs on the List are those that went through the nomination process, and have been mutually agreed upon by both the MPA Center and the managing agency.

Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act: The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) is the primary law governing marine fisheries management in United States federal waters. The Act was first enacted in 1976 and amended in 1996. Most notably, the Magnuson-Stevens Act aided in the development of the domestic fishing industry by phasing out foreign fishing. To manage the fisheries and promote conservation, the Act created eight regional fishery management councils. The 1996 amendments focused rebuilding overfished fisheries, protecting essential fish habitat, and reducing bycatch.

Management/Managing Agency or Authority: The federal, state, commonwealth, territorial, local, or tribal entity or entities with legal authority to designate, promulgate regulations for, and/or manage an MPA. In many cases, authority lies with one agency or program, however, in certain instances, such as the federal/state National Estuarine Research Reserve System and the state/tribe co-management arrangements, authority is formally shared or split among two or more entities.

Marine Environment (U.S.): (a) ocean or coastal waters (note: coastal waters may include intertidal areas, bays, or estuaries); (b) an area of the Great Lakes or their connecting waters; (c) an area of lands under ocean or coastal waters or the Great Lakes or their connecting waters; or (d) a combination of the above.

Marine Managed Area: Any area of the marine environment that has been reserved by federal, state, territorial, tribal, or local laws or regulations to provide lasting protection for part or all of the natural or cultural resources therein. Important note: While the terms "marine managed area" (MMA) and "marine protected area" (MPA) each have the same base definition, the specific definitions of the component terms of "area," "marine environment," "reserved," "lasting" and "protection" differentiate the scope of MMA and MPA. In both the MMA and MPA contexts, the terms "area," "marine environment," "reserved," and "protection" each have essentially the same meaning. The term "lasting" in the MMA context, however, is defined as "must provide the same protection, for any duration within a year, at the same location on the same dates each year, for at least two consecutive years. Must be established with an expectation of, or history of, or at least the potential for, permanence." See Lasting for the MPA-related definition of this term.

Marine Managed Areas (MMA) Inventory: An earlier (2001-2007) database of U.S. aquatic, coastal, or marine sites that have been set aside for the protection of some or all of the natural and cultural resources therein. The database included federal, state, commonwealth, and territory sites.

Marine Planning Areas: Distinct marine locations subject to site-specific, ongoing management or regulatory planning within fixed boundaries. A Marine Planning Area is the subject of a site-specific, comprehensive management plan, and often involves ongoing collaborations between relevant agencies and stakeholders at all levels, and subprograms involving education/outreach, enforcement, research, monitoring and evaluation.

Marine Protected Area: Any area of the marine environment that has been reserved by federal, state, territorial, tribal, or local laws or regulations to provide lasting protection for part or all of the natural and cultural resources therein.

Marine Protected Areas (MPA) Inventory: A comprehensive inventory of U.S. marine protected areas established or managed by federal, state, or territorial agencies or programs. The more exclusive MPA Inventory, launched in 2008, replaced the MMA Inventory and is used to identify existing sites and/or programs that meet the criteria for nomination to the national system and inclusion on the subsequent List of National System MPAs.

Marine Resource Areas: Broad or multiple geographic areas defined by an underlying, mapped marine resource that is afforded some degree of protection through state laws, regulations, or policies

Marine Reserve: A type of MPA where extractive uses are prohibited (also referred to as "no-take" reserve)

Marine Sanctuary: As defined by the U.S. government are areas of the marine environment with special national significance due to their conservation, recreational, ecological, historical, scientific, cultural, archeological, educational, or esthetic qualities as national marine sanctuaries. They are designed by the Secretary of Commerce or act of Congress. Most are multiple-use marine protected areas that may include breeding and feeding grounds of whales, sea lions, sharks, and sea turtles; significant coral reefs and kelp forest habitats; and the remains of historic shipwrecks. Some national marine sanctuaries are zoned to include no-take areas. (Note: States may have "sanctuaries" that have a different purpose or are defined differently.)

Marine Spatial Planning: Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) is a comprehensive, ecosystem-based process through which compatible human uses are objectively and transparently allocated to appropriate ocean areas to sustain critical ecological, economic and cultural services for future generations.

Marine Waters: As defined by U.S. Executive Order 13158 on MPAs: Waters under tidal influence, extending to the Mean High Water mark on land, and into river mouths to a salinity gradient of 5 parts/thousand, and the fresh waters of the Great Lakes to the Ordinary High Water mark on land.

Multiple-Use MPAs: Often employed over larger areas, multiple-use areas allow for integrated management of complete marine ecosystems, usually through a zoning process.

National Monument: An area designated by the President of the United States, under the authority of the Antiquities Act of 1906, to protect objects of scientific and historical interest that are located on federal lands.

National Parks (U.S.): A large area of land preserved in its natural state as public property.

National System of MPAs: The group of MPA sites, networks, and systems established and managed by federal, state, territorial, tribal, and/or local governments that collectively enhance conservation of the nation's natural and cultural marine heritage and represent its diverse ecosystems and resources. National system MPAs work together at the regional and national levels to achieve common objectives for conserving the nation's important natural and cultural resources.

[Marine] Natural Heritage: The nation's biological communities, habitats, ecosystems, and processes, and the ecological services, uses, and values they provide to this and future generations.

[Marine] Natural Resources: Any biological or physical component of the marine environment that contributes to the structure, function, or services provided by a marine ecosystem.

Natural Science: The sciences involved in the study of the physical world and its phenomena.

Network of MPAs: A set of discrete MPAs within a region or ecosystem that are connected through complementary purposes and synergistic protections. A network of MPAs could focus on ecosystem processes, certain individual marine species, or cultural resources. For example, an ecological network of MPAs could be connected through dispersal of reproductive stages or movement of juveniles and adults.

No-Take Zones: Areas in which all extractive activities are prohibited.

Pelagic: Pertaining to the open ocean and organisms living within it, including highly migratory fishes such as swordfish, tuna, and many species of shark.

Permanence of Protection: For the Marine Protected Areas Inventory, in order for sites to be considered for inclusion in the database, they must provide year round (12-month) protection. They must be established with an expectation of, or at least the potential for, permanence. Areas with a sunset clause must provide a minimum of four years of continuous protection and must have a specific mechanism to renew protection at the expiration of the sunset period.

Place-Based Management: A conservation or management regime that includes a legally-defined area with greater conservation regulation or statutory law applying inside its boundaries than outside.

Protection: For purposes of the National System of MPAs, must have existing laws or regulations that are designed and applied to afford the site with increased protection for part or all of the natural and submerged cultural resources therein for the purpose of maintaining or enhancing the long-term conservation of these resources, beyond any general protections that apply outside the site.

Recreation Area: An area that allows for recreational fishing, diving, boating, kayaking, and other recreational activities. Recreation areas can be zoned within multiple-use MPAs, or occur outside of MPAs.

Region or Regional: An area inclusive of and determined by participating national system sites and systems that is based on common management interests, similar or linked ecological characteristics, and/or other factors that provide a foundation for meaningful coordination.

Reserved: For purposes of the National System of MPAs, must be established by and currently subject to federal, state, commonwealth, territorial, local, or tribal law or regulation.

Seashore: The coastline of a sea or ocean, including the ground between the ordinary high water and low water marks.

Social Science: The branch of science that studies society and the relationships of individuals within a society.

Stakeholder: Individuals, groups of individuals, organizations, or political entities interest in and/or affected by the outcome of management decisions. Stakeholders may also be individuals, groups, or other entities that are likely to have an effect on the outcome of management decisions. Members of the public also may be considered stakeholders. State: See United States.

Stewardship: Careful and responsible management to ensure that goals and objectives are being achieved for the benefit of current and future generations.

Subtidal: A marine or estuarine environment that lies below mean low water; always (or almost always) submerged in a tidally-influenced area.

Sustainable Production: The renewable living resources and their habitats, including, but not limited to, spawning, mating, and nursery grounds, and areas established to minimize incidental by-catch of species, that are important to the nation's social, economic, and cultural well-being. System: A set of MPAs connected by shared programmatic, administrative, or other organizing principles or purposes. A system of MPAs is not necessarily confined to a specific geographic area, such as a region or ecosystem.

Tide: The periodic, rhythmic rise and fall of the sea surface that results from the gravity of the moon and sun acting on the rotating Earth.

Tidelands: The zone between the mean high water and mean low water lines.

Tribe: A federally-recognized American Indian or Alaska Native government.

Wildlife Refuge: An area designated for the protection or replenishment of wild animals, within which hunting and fishing are either prohibited or strictly controlled.

United States: Includes the several States, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands of the United States, American Samoa, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Zoning: A process in which a marine protected area is divided into discrete zones each permitting and regulating specific human activities through conditions such as gear limitations in fishing and waste discharge prohibitions in tourism. In the United States, some marine sanctuaries, national parks, national wildlife refuges, and state MPAs are examples of areas that may be zoned.