Is It an MPA?

MPA News

MPA News asked two people with an interest in global MPA statistics for their thoughts on what counts as an MPA. Specifically, we gave a short list of what might be considered borderline MPAs to:

  • Chris Yesson of the Institute of Zoology in the UK, who helped develop the global MPA coverage calculation for the Marine Reserves Coalition, and
  • Lance Morgan of the Marine Conservation Institute, who has led development of

…and asked them which ones they would consider to be actual MPAs. Because both of their projects rely on the World Database on Protected Areas as their primary source of global MPA data, they agreed on nearly all of the sites. Still, their answers shed some light on how global MPA statistics are compiled:

Mediterranean/Black seas bottom trawl closure (designated 2005; 1.63 million km2)

Morgan: This is unlikely to be considered an MPA. It should be considered a fishery restriction instead.

International Whaling Commission Indian Ocean Sanctuary (designated 1979; 70 million km2)

Yesson: The Marine Reserves Coalition did not include this in our calculation. We felt its inclusion would result in a massive and artificial inflation of the protected area calculation.

Morgan: This site needs to be more comprehensive in its ecosystem protection to be considered an MPA.

Any MPA that has little to no effective management or enforcement in place (a paper park)

Morgan: Many sites in most likely fall into this category. We have not attempted yet to exclude areas on the basis of effective management.

Any MPA that allows commercial fishing

Morgan: Most MPAs allow some form of commercial fishing. In, we are planning to display no-take reserves differently and are looking to refine this information as our project continues.

Yesson: It would be useful to conduct a spatially explicit analysis of areas that are completely no-take. At present it is difficult to do because the data required have not been gathered into usable form. We feel this is the next logical step for MPA coverage analysis.


Let's not confuse good management of human uses in the marine environment as being synonymous with protection of marine biodiversity. We should do both, of course, but in order to keep them separate in our minds, we should call them different things. Protection of marine biodiversity is the central function of a marine protected area (MPA). Sustainable human use is the central function of a marine managed area (MMA). Yes, there is a grey zone in-between, and one could probably argue that MPAs are a spatial subset of MMAs, but nevertheless, they remain different in intent and in effect. MPAs should, when meeting their objectives, provide benefits to a wide range of organisms; whereas a properly functioning MMA will through the good management of human activities allow sustained benefits from the marine resources for human generations to come. We need both MPAs and MMAs, respectively, in order to protect biodiversity while allowing for sustained benefits to humanity.  --Jeff Ardron

Add new comment

Sign-in with your OpenChannels Member Account and sign-up for email notifications of news. Simply visit any news post and click the "Subscribe to updates of new content of this type" link just above the comments section.