Marine Protected Areas

Marine protected areas (MPAs) in the U.S. come in a variety of forms and are established and managed by all levels of government. There are marine sanctuaries, estuarine research reserves, ocean parks, and marine wildlife refuges. Each of these sites differ. MPAs may be established to protect ecosystems, preserve cultural resources such as shipwrecks and archaeological sites, or sustain fisheries production.

There is often confusion and debate regarding what the term "marine protected area" really means. Some people interpret MPAs to mean areas closed to all human activities, while others interpret them as special areas set aside for recreation (e.g., national parks) or to sustain commercial use (e.g., fishery management areas). These are just a few examples of the many types of MPAs.

In reality, “marine protected area” is a term that encompasses a variety of conservation and management methods in the United States. If you have been fishing in central California, diving near a shipwreck in the Florida Keys, camping in Acadia, snorkeling in the Virgin Islands, or hiking along the Olympic Coast, you were probably one of thousands of visitors to an MPA.

In the U.S., MPAs span a range of habitats, including the open ocean, coastal areas, inter-tidal zones, estuaries, and the Great Lakes. They also vary widely in purpose, legal authorities, agencies, management approaches, level of protection, and restrictions on human uses.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has listed 27 marine protected areas in Puget Sound. 

Source: NOAA's National Ocean Service and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. 

A map of Marine Protected Areas within Puget Sound. Image courtesy of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

OVERVIEW

Policy pivot in Puget Sound: Lessons learned from marine protected areas and tribally-led estuarine restoration

A 2018 paper in the journal Ocean and Coastal Management examines and compares planning approaches used to develop marine protected areas and estuary restoration projects in Puget Sound. It finds that management policies can benefit from increasingly collaborative planning with a focus on multiple benefits such as flood control, salmon recovery, recreation and resilience to climate change.