Environmental Science Marine Protected Areas
Elizabeth De Santo
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 October 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199363445-0123


Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are a key tool in ecosystem-based management, implementing a spatial approach to biodiversity conservation in the oceans. While the use of protected areas to conserve and/or protect resources has a long history, including centuries of royal hunting areas and traditionally managed areas, the modern conceptualization of protected areas dates to the late 19th century, with the designation of Yellowstone National Park in the United States in 1872. The first similar formally protected area with a marine component was the Royal National Park MPA in New South Wales, Australia, in 1879, although it also included a terrestrial component, as do many MPAs in coastal areas. The land/sea interface poses a challenge to delineating between terrestrial and marine parks, adding to a complex jurisdictional and legal landscape. Consequently, it is helpful to categorize MPAs based on the broad definition for protected areas offered by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature): a clearly defined geographical space, recognized, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values. As evidenced in this definition, discussions surrounding MPAs have become more amenable to soft-law approaches and/or less formal legal designations, and they are also increasingly tied to the concept of ecosystem services (i.e., protecting systems that in turn provide people with services that would be costly to otherwise reproduce, such as the coastal protection provided by mangroves and coral reefs). Of course, there are also strong arguments for protecting nature for its own intrinsic value, as well as the value it holds for non-human species. In order to fully understand the promise and efficacy of MPAs, it is necessary to examine their legal basis, their effectiveness as tools, how they can work together as networks to achieve ecological objectives, and how the global community is using protected area targets and large-scale MPAs to maximize coverage. However, it is also important to consider the socioeconomic dimensions of MPAs, as these often lead to problems with their success, including concerns with equity and justice and how well they are governed. Looking forward, future work in the field of MPAs includes ensuring they are achieving their ecological objectives, by ensuring enough areas are closed to all extractive uses, and developing a regime for designating them in areas beyond national jurisdiction, on the high seas.

General Overviews

Publications directly addressing MPAs emerged in the 1990s and include both academic contributions and gray literature/reports tracking MPAs (e.g., Kelleher and Kenchington 1992). The IUCN and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) along with several environmental nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have also produced several reports since the 1990s, tracking global progress in designating MPAs, as well as providing advice on their design and implementation. The earliest monographs directly addressing MPAs include Agardy 1997 and Gubbay 1995, which set out a developing concept in some depth, drawing on examples to make recommendations for future designations. Subsequent monographs have included broad overviews, such as Claudet 2011, which brings together specific case studies, as well as more geographically and/or topically specific approaches, such as Hoyt 2011, a volume examining MPAs for marine mammals. While no formal textbooks on MPAs currently exist in the early 21st century, Ray and McCormick-Ray 2014 and Hiscock 2014 are good starting points for connecting students with the necessities for marine conservation and the tools we have developed to address it. The MPA literature also overlaps with ecosystem-based management approaches (see McLeod and Leslie 2009) ocean zoning (see Agardy 2010) and marine spatial planning (see Ehler and Douvere 2009). Monographs come from a range of academic perspectives beyond marine conservation science, including legal and economic analyses and conceptual social science approaches.

  • Agardy, Tundi. 1997. Marine protected areas and ocean conservation. Georgetown, TX, and San Diego, CA: R.G. Landes Company and Academic Press.

    An introduction to marine biodiversity and why it matters, as well as the threats posed by humans to marine systems and the ways in which MPAs can help counter them. It explains different types of approaches to MPAs, draws on case studies in Guinea Bissau and Tanzania, and also sets out guidelines for selecting sites and designating MPAs.

  • Agardy, Tundi. 2010. Ocean zoning: Making marine management more effective. London: Earthscan.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781849776462

    This book outlines the benefits of zoning as a solution to the challenges facing marine environmental management and draws on examples from Australia and New Zealand, Europe, Africa, and North America.

  • Claudet, Joachim, ed. 2011. Marine protected areas: A multidisciplinary approach. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    A wide-ranging approach to MPAs, pulling together case studies and perspectives from multiple authors, centered around assessing the effectiveness of MPAs to address ecological concerns and their impact on the ocean economy.

  • Ehler, Charles, and Fanny Douvere. 2009. Marine spatial planning: A step-by-step approach toward ecosystem-based management. Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission and Man and the Biosphere Programme. IOC Manual and Guides No. 53, ICAM Dossier No. G. Paris: UNESCO.

    A practitioner-oriented guide to understanding the concepts underpinning marine spatial planning and how to implement it.

  • Gubbay, Sue, ed. 1995. Marine protected areas: Principles and techniques for management. London: Chapman & Hall.

    Edited volume drawing together marine conservation expert perspectives on a wide range of topics, including advice on selecting sites, the necessary legal framework, involving the community, making a management plan, implementing zoning and enforcement, accommodating indigenous communities, implementing education and outreach programs, and establishing voluntary marine conservation areas.

  • Hiscock, Keith. 2014. Marine biodiversity conservation: A practical approach. Abingdon, UK: Routledge

    DOI: 10.4324/9781315857640

    A useful introduction to the history of marine biodiversity conservation, why it is important, and how science is applied to management. Also introduces the importance of ecosystems and their recovery and restoration. Includes discussion on how to select, design, and manage MPAs.

  • Hoyt, Erich. 2011. Marine protected areas for whales, dolphins and porpoises: A world handbook for cetacean habitat conservation and planning. London: Earthscan.

    A focused and tailored perspective on the necessity for MPAs to protect cetaceans, including implications of ecosystem-based management, MPA networks, and ocean zoning.

  • Kelleher, Graeme, and Richard Kenchington. 1992. Guidelines for establishing marine protected areas: A marine conservation and development report. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN.

    This IUCN handbook was intended to help countries on the ground with establishing MPAs. It provides an introduction to MPAs and guidelines for setting them up.

  • McLeod, Karen, and Heather Leslie, eds. 2009. Ecosystem-based management for the oceans. Washington, DC: Island Press.

    Edited volume bringing together a range of perspectives on ecosystem-based management, from the conceptual basis to how to implement it in practice. Case studies are mostly US-based, plus Canada and one chapter that takes a global view.

  • Ray, G. Carleton, and Jerry McCormick-Ray. 2014. Marine conservation: Science, policy and management. West Sussex, UK: Wiley Blackwell.

    Useful as a textbook, this volume includes key issues underpinning marine conservation, including human activities and environmental challenges. It provides an introduction to marine systems and environmental management and includes in depth case studies on conservation approaches in the Chesapeake Bay, Bering Sea, Bahamas, Isles of Scilly, Gwaii Haanas, South Africa, and Patagonia.

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