To Fish or Not to Fish?

Part A: The ABCs of MPAs

Dry Tortugas National Park, a marine protected area in the southeastern part of the Gulf of Mexico, 30 miles west of the Florida Keys.

Protected areas are extremely important tools for maintaining biodiversity both on land and in the water. As ecosystems continue to be threatened or damagedin large part due to human activity and its effectsprotected areas are vital for safeguarding plant and animal species and the natural resources they and local human communities depend on.

1. Watch this video for an introduction to MPAs.

MPA Basics

2. Read the Analysis of U.S. MPAs (Acrobat (PDF) 1MB Jul13 20) to learn the basics of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

Checking In

Answer the following questions to check your understanding of MPA basics.

  • What is the official definition of a Marine Protected Area?
  • Give some reasons why MPAs are important.
  • Marine protected areas are established at all levels of government. How many of the nation's MPAs are managed by state and territorial governments?
  • How many marine protected areas are there in the U.S.?

3. Visit the U.S. MPA map and click on and off the layers to view the different US Marine Protected Areas. Find a protected area closest to your hometown (even if it's a distance away). Zoom in and click the colored-in zone for more info about the particular MPA. Record the following information:

  • Site Name
  • Region
  • Managing Agency
  • Type of Site
  • Land and Water Area

4. Click on the name of the site for additional information about the protected region. Write down any interesting additional information you find.

5. Share the information you found with your classmates. Did you all choose the same marine managed area?

6. Download and read the document Definition and Classification System for U.S. Marine Protected Areas (Acrobat (PDF) 442kB Jul16 19)

Checking In

Answer the following questions to check your understanding of the MPA classification system.

  • What are the five objective characteristics common to most MPAs?
  • What are the three main types of conservation focus for MPAs?
  • What are the six levels of protection assigned to MPAs?


7. Watch this brief video about making MPAs effective.

What Do MPAs Need?

Stop and Think

1: Create and describe a scenario in which there might be opposing views as to whether or not to create a Marine Protected Area. What type of conservation level does this proposed MPA have? What level of protection? What is the source of the controversy?

International MPAs

Marine Protected Areas can be found all around the world, not just in the United States. In 2016, world governments agreed to the goal of protecting 30% of the world's oceans by 2030. There are currently over 15,000 designated MPAs covering a little over 5% of global ocean.

8. Optional: The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Resources (IUCN) is the national body that tracks national and international MPAs. International guidelines for MPAs differ slightly from those of the US. To learn more, visit IUCN - Marine Protected Areas.

9. Visit the Protected Planet site for up-to-date information about the World's Marine Protected Areas. Scroll through the information to read the data on the number, growth, and area covered by MPAs globally.

Checking In

Answer the following questions to check your understanding of the World MPAs.

  • What percent of the ocean is currently covered by protected areas?
  • High seas make up 61% of the global ocean; what percent of it is protected area?

Optional Extensions

The Atlas of Marine Conservation: MPAs

The Case for Marine Protected Areas

The ups and downs of marine protected areas: Examining the evidence

The Marine Reserve Goldilocks Problem

Will Large Protected Areas Save the Oceans or Politicize Them?

The Push to Safeguard 30% of the Ocean

Research Paper Reef Fishes at All Trophic Levels Respond Positively to Effective Marine Protected Areas

Research Paper Biological effects within no-take marine reserves: a global synthesis