Marine Protected Areas of the United States
What Marine Protected Areas provide the nation
Our comments and interpretation in blue. Photographs left out.
MPAs are internationally recognized as a means for conserving natural, historic, and cultural marine resources. Through protection of marine species and habitats, MPAs provide social and economic benefits, including sustainable recreational and commercial use of marine resources and enhanced research and educational opportunities. MPA networks can help individual MPAs achieve conservation goals, providing additional social and economic benefits. Like most actions, achieving benefits usually involves costs or trade-offs. In the case of MPAs, some human activities may be prohibited or restricted in order to achieve the benefits of establishing an MPA.
Natural Resource Protection
Historic and Cultural Resource Protection
Social and Economic Benefits
Benefits of MPA Networks

Natural Resource Protection
The loss of marine resources as a result of human induced changes in the marine environment is a growing problem globally and in the U.S. More than one quarter of the world’s coral reefs are effectively lost (Wilkinson, 2000). Between 69% to 74% of fish stocks globally are overfished or fully exploited (FAO, 1998). Forty-five percent of U.S. fish stocks whose status is known are either overfished or approaching an overfished condition (NMFS, 1999). Coastal wetland loss in the U.S. exceeds 20,000 acres per year (Brady and Flather, 1994 and Johnston et al., 1995). Nearly one-third of U.S. coastal waters used for the harvest of oysters, clams, and mussels are classified as "harvest-limited" due to contamination from pollution (NOS, 1995). MPAs can address these problems by managing human activities in certain areas.

It is a pity that the statistics used are loaded towards scaremongering. A fully exploited stock is not under threat, neither are those approaching overfished condition. 'Harvest-limited' aquaculture must not be confused with natural ecosystems. How can MPAs address the problems outside the actual place where they are established? Their influence on the outside non-MPA areas is negligible. They do not fix the problems of overfishing, landbased pollution or harvest limiting factors.
MPAs generally create a level of management over and above existing authorities that apply outside of MPAs, and can provide a more focused, ecosystem-based approach to resource management.
MPAs indeed add to complexity, often because they are administered by others than those in charge of fisheries, which is a costly mistake. They do NOT provide an ecosystems-based (ESB) approach to resource management because they only work where they are, whereas the resource extends also outside. They do NOT provide any form of fisheries management. If this were so, countries with extensive experience in no-take marine reserves, like New Zealand, would have done so.
Activities that are permitted or regulated by law outside an MPA may be prohibited or severely curtailed within an MPA. Oil exploration and production, dredging, dumping, certain types of vessel traffic, fishing, and placing structures on the seabed are examples of types of activities that may be restricted in certain types of MPAs (Code of Federal Regulations, 2000).
MPAs must with reason, allow developments like the ones mentioned above. MPAs must not deny future generations the benefits of those activities.
Effective MPA management can help protect and restore various components of the nation’s marine environment, including natural ecosystems, biodiversity, habitat, and endangered and threatened species. Managing for one of these elements often means protecting the others. Similarly, to effectively manage endangered or threatened species, the habitat they rely upon must also be preserved.
Such statements are inaccurate. MPAs do NOT protect biodiversity more than any area with cautiously managed fisheries. Biodiversity is about viable populations, not necessarily unexploited ones. Many threatened and endangered species are free-roaming and migratory such that marine reserves do not protect them, but targeted species protection does. Marine habitats are not under threat since they are not or minimally affected by fishing.

Historic and Cultural Resource Protection
MPAs also preserve and protect important historical and cultural resources of our marine heritage. These include archeological sites that contain significant cultural artifacts; sunken ships, aircraft, or other vessels; and areas of significance to specific cultures or time periods. Specific examples include Thunder Bay Underwater Preserve and National Marine Sanctuary which includes over 100 shipwrecks in Lake Huron; the U.S.S. Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, which protects a Civil War ship that sunk off the shore of North Carolina in 1862; the Midway National Wildlife Refuge, which encompasses the site of the World War II Battle of Midway; and the Salt River Bay National Historic Preserve which was the focal point of various European attempts to colonize the Virgin Islands.

Historic and cultural MPAs are valid, but they can be very small while achieving their objectives.
Protecting cultural resources in MPAs reduces the chance that artifacts will be removed or damaged from modern day commercial or recreational activities. Unlike many biological communities that have some level of resilience to recover from degradation, once they are damaged, underwater historic and cultural resources usually cannot recover. Using MPAs to conserve historical resources can help to stabilize deteriorating structures and to encourage actions to find, preserve, and place on public display artifacts that may otherwise be inaccessible. By protecting marine sites that were important to different time
periods and cultures, a part of history is preserved for future generations.
It only works when policed and enforced. Local co-operation is important to achieve compliance.

Social and Economic Benefits
Many social and economic benefits of MPAs derive from the resource protection and high quality environment that effective MPAs can afford. Some of the social and economic benefits include:

Enhancing Non-consumptive Uses. As with overall ecosystem protection, protecting particular plants and animals, and the habitats they depend on for survival, will help ensure that future generations are able to enjoy the benefits that these resources provide. Many economic activities in coastal areas rely on peoples’ enjoyment of marine resources. For example, in Monroe County, Florida, location of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and other marine-related parks and wildlife refuges, the estimated total tourist contribution to the economy (1995-1996) is over 60 percent (English et al., 1996).
Economic benefit results only from places of interest with clear water and good access. The Florida Keys must not be confused with the California coast. Once the coral environment degrades further, the benefits will also cease.
Non-extractive uses of the marine environment, such as scuba diving, snorkeling, wildlife watching, boating, and surfing rely on healthy marine environments. Good water quality, abundant living resources, and scenic ocean habitats attract visitors to coastal areas around the globe to pursue marine activities. MPAs can help ensure that these marine resources survive and continue to draw the recreational users that are critical to many coastal economies.
MPAs cannot improve water quality, the main problem. The Florida Keys are deteriorating at an alarming rate. See blackwater reports of Naples News.
By protecting natural, historic, and cultural resources, MPAs also provide intangible benefits such as the pleasure of viewing particular species, habitats, or artifacts. Other examples include the enjoyment of knowing that a particular marine species is less likely to become extinct or that a cultural or historic treasure has been preserved. While it is difficult to put dollar values on these benefits (NRC, in press), many feel it is important to maintain these benefits for both current and future generations.

Maintaining Fisheries. MPAs can also help ensure sustainable commercial and recreational fisheries by controlling fishing rates, protecting critical stages in the life history of fishery species, conserving genetic diversity of exploited species, reducing secondary impacts of fishing on essential fish habitat and other species, and ensuring against fisheries collapse (Murray et al. 1999; NRC, in press).

All this can be done under normal fisheries regulations. MPAs are not necessary.
MPAs may allow site-specific regulation of selected species, selected gear types, or fishing methods. Certain MPAs or zones within MPAs may be fishery reserves that protect all or nearly all species from fishing. Many studies indicate that abundance and size of target species increase in marine protected areas that limit extractive use (Dugan and Davis, 1993; Crowder et al., 2000; Halpern, in press).
Again, these are fishery related issues.
In 76 studies of reserves around the world, densities of fishery species increased in 69% of the reserves, average body size increased in 88% of reserves, and biomass increased in 92% of reserves (Halpern, in press). In Looe Key, Florida the abundance of snappers nearly doubled and that of grunts more than quadrupled after fishing was closed for only two years (Clark et al., 1989). In addition, rare species previously absent from these sites were found in the MPA (Clark et al., 1989).
The quoted results are not at all impressive, and can easily be matched by fisheries regulations. The fact that area closure benefits accrued rapidly shows that the fishing problem is only minor. Rare species belong to other regions. They are not important to local ecosystems. They occur sporadically and arrive and disappear cyclically or unpredictably. To find more rare species may not be related to the state of protection.
Increased size and abundance within MPAs may lead to a spillover effect, potentially increasing fish abundance and fishery yield in nearby waters outside of the MPA boundaries (Russ and Alcala, 1999; Crowder et al., 2000) and dispersing larvae that replenish more distant fishing grounds (Bohnsack 1998; NRC, in press).
Note the careful use of the word may. It has been shown conclusively that the spillover effect is much less than the lost fishery. For scientists to keep mentioning it as an MPA benefit, pushes credibility . . over the edge. The larval dispersal argument also lacks any empirical proof and lives only in the minds of protagonists and their computer models.

Providing Opportunities for Research and Education. MPAs furnish opportunities for academic and applied research and monitoring of short-lived events and long-term trends. Applied research is especially important for MPA resource management needs and even for biomedical applications (Salm et al, 2000). MPAs with broad resource protection can be stable, long-term venues for ongoing studies of the same group of organisms or same area of habitat (Salm et al, 2000). They can provide baselines against which to measure management efforts. MPAs can also provide comparative areas to measure the effect of an activity that occurs outside an MPA, but is limited within the MPA. Examples of MPAs with strong monitoring programs are sites in the National Estuarine Research Reserve System . The 25 sites participate in a system-wide monitoring program to detect changes in the status, integrity, and biological diversity of estuaries. Similar monitoring programs take place in individual MPAs such as the Virgin Islands National Park.

No-take marine reserves do help research and education because they protect experiments while separating takers from lookers. However, this is true only in those that do not degrade. Only very few will satisfy this criterion. Measuring the effects of activities is very limited since the only activity harmful to the environment is fishing. For measuring the effects of an activity like an oil spill or dredging, no MPAs are required. To create MPAs for marine research is an entirely different proposition from creating extensive networks of marine reserves.
Students at all levels are drawn toward natural areas as places to learn about fascinating marine organisms and their habitats. MPAs provide hands on experience and outdoor laboratories for bringing classroom studies to life. With the majority of the nation’s population living in coastal regions, MPA educational programs have the potential to help a large segment of the public understand the importance of marine ecosystems and the impact of human activities on them. However, access to some MPAs can be difficult due to their underwater and offshore locations. Trips to visitors centers, classroom presentations, educational curricula, videos, and teacher training are some of the ways that marine educators bring MPAs to students. MPAs also serve to educate and train users and interest groups such as divers, fishermen, boaters, and wildlife watchers on ways to enjoy marine environments without damaging the features that make them attractive and valuable.
MPAs work well for human educational and recreational uses, however they don't need to be large to achieve this benefit. Most schools would be satisfied with a protected bit of intertidal shore. An MPA is not required for this.
Benefits of MPA Networks
A network of MPAs is a group of sites that are linked in some ecologically meaningful way. MPA networks can address the problem of how to protect important and/or representative areas without limiting human uses of vast areas of coast and ocean. They share and enhance many of the benefits of individual MPAs, providing opportunities to preserve marine biodiversity, resolve user conflicts, and restore degraded or over exploited areas (Agardy, 1999). Networks allow scientists to use MPAs more effectively for research, providing opportunities for replication, where research in similar habitats in the same region "would increase the precision for all types of data and enable statistically valid conclusions" (Ballantine, 1991). Well designed networks of MPAs can make overfishing a regional population or stock more difficult, where protecting a single area of sufficient size to provide equivalent protection might not be feasible or may be politically unpalatable (Dyer and Holland, 1991). Networks can be used to protect the entire range of habitat types within a region when all habitat types are not concentrated in a single MPA.
Note how this whole paragraph is full of conjecture (guesswork), missing all certainty because there exists no solid evidence of what it claims - not even after three decades of marine conservation. What is worrying is that protagonists have drowned themselves inside a world devoid of people. Whether we like it or not, the natural situation has become one with people being important players. So what use is knowledge about pristine conditions when the rest of the world is not? Would you as a taxpayer wish to increase our knowledge about that world or about the new world where humans rule? We must somehow move forward.
Networks can also help to link marine areas with adjacent land areas and their protected area networks. The impacts of land-based activity on even offshore MPAs can be significant, especially for issues like maintaining water quality. Establishing an effective link with land management is essential to conserving marine resources, and networks can help make this connection (Barr, 2000).
This is also a subject for conjecture. It is a fact that the connection between land and sea is tenuous. Are gulls, shearwaters, cormorants, sea otters and seals land or sea creatures? The reality is that the boundary between land and sea is sharp without any overlap, except where rivers flow into the sea. Pollution flows from the land into the sea and not the other way. The sea is so dramatically different from the terrestrial world that it requires different management and different people (seamen, not landlubbers). One of the problems with marine research is that most of it is done by landlubbers. Read biodiversity/marine to explore the differences between land and sea.
From a practical perspective, MPA networks can increase the pool of available financial and personnel resources to address issues and problems common to more than one site. Within networks, common issues and concerns can be easily identified. Pooled resources and a shared agenda for action promote swift and effective responses to shared problems. Collective and collaborative actions in outreach and education can mobilize support for individual sites and the concept of marine protected areas generally. The shared experiences of site managers and agency administrators can be critical to avoiding duplication of effort when a site in the network encounters situations that others have already resolved. Opportunities for MPA managers, scientists, and educators to share experiences, look for partners in regional initiatives, and pass on the latest advance or innovation in their discipline, all provide tangible benefits to MPA practitioners involved in regional, national or international networks (Barr, 2000).
Where is the local community in all this? MPAs begin and end with local communities. One of the important reasons why MPAs failed was the lack of community support. Note that for none of the points mentioned, an MPA network is essential.
Below is a list of scientific publications cited in this synopsis of MPA benefits to the nation. Just as an exercise, check out how many of these publications are pure opinion and speculation, without any experimental proof!

Do you really think that MPAs, let alone MPA networks are essential and that we should hurry having them?



Agardy, T. 1999. Creating Havens for Marine Life. Issues in Science and Technology 16(1):37-44.

Ballantine, W. 1991. Marine Reserves -- The Need for Networks. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 25:115-116.

Barr, B.W. 2000. Establishing Effective Marine Protected Area Networks. Science and Management of Protected Areas Association 4th International Conference. University of Waterloo. Ontario, Canada. May 14-19, 2000.

Bohnsack, J.A. 1998. Application of marine reserves to reef fisheries management. Aust. J. Ecol. 23:298-304.

Brady, S.J. and Flather, C.H. 1994. Changes in wetlands on nonfederal rural land of the coterminous United States from 1982 to 1987. Environmental Management 18(5): 693-705.

Clark, J.R., B. Causey, and J.A. Bohnsack. 1989. Benefits from coral reef protection: Looe Key Reef, Florida. Pp. 3076-3086 in O.T. Magoon, H. Converse, D. Minor, L.T. Tobin, and D. Clark (Eds). Coastal Zone '89. Proceedings of the 6th Symposium on Coastal and Ocean Management, held in Charleston, South Carolina, 11-14 July 1989. American Society of Civil Engineers, New York.

Code of Federal Regulations. Revised as of January 1, 2000. 15CFR922. Title 15, Volume 3, Parts 800 to end.

Crowder, L.B, S.J. Lyman, W.F. Figueira, and J. Priddy. 2000. Source-sink population dynamics and the problem of siting marine reserves. Bulletin of Marine Science 66(3): 799-820.

Dugan, J.E. and G.E. Davis. 1993. Applications of marine refugia to coastal fisheries management. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Science 50:2029-2042.

Dyer, M. and M. Holland. 1991. The Biosphere Reserve Concept: Needs for a Network Design. BioScience 41(5):319-325.

English, Donald B.K., Warren Kriesel, Vernon R. Leeworthy, and Peter C. Wiley. 1996. Economic Contribution of Recreating Visitors to the Florida Keys/Key West. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Silver Spring, MD. I + 22pp.

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). 1999. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 1998. FAO, United Nations, Rome.

Halpern, B. In press. The impact of marine reserves: does reserve size matter? Ecological Applications.

Johnston, J.B., Watzin, M.C., Barras, J.A., and L.R. Handley. 1995. Gulf of Mexico coastal wetlands:case studies of loss trends. In: LaRoe et al., (eds.) Our living resources: a report to the nation on the distribution, abundance, and health of U.S. plants, animals and ecosystems. U.S. Department of the Interior, National Biological Service, Washington, D.C. pp. 269-272.

Marine Conservation Biology Institute and the Cousteau Society. 2000. Safeguarding America's Seas: Establishing a National System of Marine Protected Areas--A Call for Presidential Action. Summary of Findings and Recommendations. January, 2000 Workshop Summary. Washington, D.C.

Murray, S.N., R.F. Ambrose, J.A. Bohnsack, L.W. Botsford, M.H. Carr, G.E. Davis, P.K. Dayton, D. Gotshall, D.R. Gunderson, M.A. Hixon, J. Lubchenco, M. Mangel, A. MacCall, D.A. McArdle, J.C. Ogden, J. Roughgarden, R.M. Starr, M.J. Tegner, and M.M. Yoklavich. 1999. No-take reserve networks: protection for fishery populations and marine ecosystems. Fisheries 24(11):11-25.

National Marine Fisheries Service. 1999. Report to Congress: Status of Fisheries of the United States. Washington, D.C.: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Commerce.

National Ocean Service. 1995. The 1995 National Shellfish Register of Classified Growing Waters. Washington, D.C.: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Commerce.

National Research Council (NRC). In press. Marine Protected Areas: Tools for Sustaining Ocean Ecosystems. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.

Russ, G.R. and A.C. Alcala. 1999. Management histories of Sumilon and Apo Marine Reserves, Phillipines, and their influence on national marine resource policy. Coral Reefs 18:307-319.

Salm, R.V., John Clark, and Erkki Siirila. 2000. Marine and Coastal Protected Areas: A Guide for Planners and Managers. IUCN. Washington, DC. xxi + 371pp.

The Antiquities Act of 1906, 16 USC 431, 432, 433, Public Law 59-209 (June 8, 1906)

Terrell, Bruce. ND. Fathoming Our Past: Historical Contexts of the National Marine Sanctuaries. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Silver Spring, MD. xv + 84pp.

Wilkinson, C. (Ed). 2000. Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2000. Australian Institute of Marine Science. Dampier, Western Australia.