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Marine Protected Areas and Sanctuaries

Updated on November 3, 2014

About National Marine Sanctuaries and Marine Protected Areas (MPA)

This page has information on the U.S. National Marine Sanctuary Program and a variety of Marine Protected Areas (MPA).

In the USA, the National Marine Sanctuary Program oversees a system of underwater parks including marine and Great Lakes waters from Washington State to the Florida Keys, and from Lake Huron to American Samoa.

photo credit: NOAA

The National Marine Sanctuary Program

History of the National Marine Sanctuary Program.

Over thirty years ago, Congress passed the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act of 1972. Three years later, in 1975, the wreck site of the USS Monitor became the nation's first national marine sanctuary.

The National Marine Sanctuary Program has evolved to become the trustee for a system of thirteen underwater parks, encompassing 18,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters from Washington State to the Florida Keys, and from Lake Huron to American Samoa.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Ocean Service has managed National Marine Sanctuaries since passage of the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act.

MPA's are one of many types of marine spatial planning. Marine spatial planning (MSP) is defined by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as a “public and political process of analyzing and allocating the spatial and temporal distribution of human activities in marine areas to achieve ecological, economic and social objectives.”

Vermillion Snapper
Vermillion Snapper

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) surrounds the entire archipelago of the Florida Keys and includes the productive waters of Florida Bay, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. Established in 1990, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary protects 2,900 square nautical miles of important marine habitat, including maritime heritage resources, as well as coral reef, hard bottom, seagrass meadows, mangrove communities and sand flats. NOAA and the state of Florida manage the sanctuary.

Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary

Seventeen miles off Georgia is Gray's Reef which has one of the largest nearshore sandstone reefs in the southeastern United States. Sanctuary boundaries protect 17 square miles of open ocean.

Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary was established to protect a nationally significant collection of over 100 shipwrecks, spanning over 100 years of Great Lakes shipping history.

In 2014, NOAA announced that the boundaries of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary would be expanded from 448 square miles to 4,300 square miles. The new boundaries now include the waters of Lake Huron adjacent to Michigan’s Alcona, Alpena and Presque Isle counties to the Canadian border.

NOAA and the State of Michigan are partners in management of the sanctuary's underwater cultural resources.

The Monitor National Marine Sanctuary

The Monitor National Marine Sanctuary protects the wreck of the famed Civil War ironclad USS Monitor, best known for its battle with the Confederate ironclad Virginia in Hampton Roads, Va., on March 9, 1862.

USA Marine Sanctuaries Nominations

In June, 2014, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a final rule re-opening the public nomination process for proposing new sanctuaries in America's oceans and Great Lakes. The new rule allows Americans to nominate nationally significant marine and Great Lakes areas as marine sanctuaries.

Papahnaumokukea Marine National Monument

Papahnaumokukea Marine National Monument is the single largest conservation area under the U.S. flag, encompassing 137,797 square miles of the Pacific Ocean.

Due to their isolation and past management efforts, the reefs of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are said to be in excellent condition.

California MPA Controversy

In August 2009, the California Fish & Game Commission (CFGC) voted to create approximately 85 square miles of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) off the North Central California coast. These MPAs are, in essence, designed to reduce pressures on marine ecosystems by banning or restricting commercial and recreational fishing, along with some kelp harvesting, within their designated boundaries.

"This will shut down the Point Reyes crab grounds to us," he said. "To me, this is all smoke and mirrors and does not address the real issues of water quality. But we are the low-hanging fruit and an easy target."

The 30 new closure areas are part of California's Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA). Passed in 1999 to protect select sections of state waters, the MLPA has already established a section of MPAs scattered between Point Conception in Santa Barbara County and Pigeon Point.

California MPAs zone biologically significant sections of the ocean as state marine park (SMP), state marine conservation areas (SMCA), state marine recreational management areas (SMRMA), or state marine reserves (SMR).

SMPs prohibit commercial take and allow certain types of recreational take. SMCAs only permit the take of certain marine organisms by specifically described methods within the MPA.

SMRMAs prohibit the take of any marine organisms, but allow the recreational hunting of waterfowl.

The new closure areas will ban or restrict fishing in approximately 20 percent of the coastal waters between Half Moon Bay and Point Arena.

source: Fishlink Sublegals

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