What is a Marine Protected Area (MPA)?

Photo credit: Martin Leglize

In the conservation and nonprofit sector, we throw around a lot of acronyms.  To our team, none are more important than “MPA” – a marine protected area. Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are designated areas of the ocean that are set aside for conservation and management purposes. These areas are intended to preserve and protect the marine life and their habitats within them. They also promote sustainable use of these resources. By establishing MPAs, we can ensure that our oceans remain healthy and full of life for future generations to come. Research has shown that MPAs can significantly improve carbon sequestration, coastal protection, biodiversity and the reproductive capacity of marine organisms, as well as the catches and income of fishers. But, efficacy matters.

Effective Management

Why are MPAs so important to our mission, you ask? They can be as effective as national parks for areas of preserved land.  But only if they are truly managed effectively.  What we don’t want is “paper parks” – parks that are established but then lack sufficient management and enforcement of regulations and conservation plans.  Any park can look good on paper but an effective MPA takes the work of many nonprofits, local governments, and community stakeholders.

In the Western Caribbean, CORAL is working hard to reduce local threats to coral reefs within marine protected areas (MPAs) and to construct regional collaborations that facilitate better protection and regulation of these ocean zones. MPAs are critical if we want vital ecological entities like the Mesoamerican Reef System (MAR) – which stretches 625 miles along the coast of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras and is the largest reef network in the western hemisphere – to recover and heal from damages caused by overfishing, land-based pollution and unsustainable tourism. To give corals the best chance for adapting to climate change, CORAL focuses on what is putting them at risk, including improving MPA governance in Honduras, Belize and Mexico. But, why do MPAs matter?

Benefits of MPAs

Firstly, MPAs provide a sanctuary for marine species. With over 90% of the world’s fish stocks either fully fished or overfished, it is essential to protect the habitats and breeding grounds of marine species to ensure their survival. Fully and highly protected MPAs create safe spaces where fish populations can thrive, reproduce, and grow in numbers. In turn, this supports the larger oceanic ecosystem. MPAs help to ensure the long-term sustainability of our oceans and the fish that depend on them.

Secondly, MPAs help to protect biodiversity. The oceans are home to an incredible variety of life, from tiny plankton to massive whales, and everything in between. MPAs help to preserve this biodiversity by providing a range of habitats for different species. By protecting different types of habitats, such as coral reefs, seagrass beds, and kelp forests, MPAs ensure that a diverse range of marine life can continue to exist in our oceans.

Thirdly, MPAs support local communities. Many coastal communities around the world depend on fishing for their livelihoods. MPAs provide a way to manage and sustainably use these resources, ensuring that fish populations do not become depleted, and fishing can continue for generations to come. MPAs can also attract tourists, providing a source of income for local economies and creating jobs in areas such as eco-tourism and marine research.

By working together to establish and manage MPAs, we can create a brighter future for our oceans and the people and animals that depend on them. So, let’s join forces and protect our oceans – together, we can make a difference!

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