Marine Protected Areas

A healthy ocean needs safe havens for fish, whales, dolphins, corals, and other treasures of the sea.  Marine protected areas (MPA) provide ocean life and their habitats refuge from human impacts and also allow depleted marine resources to recover.  Many MPAs also serve as living laboratories – critical to scientific research and discoveries that benefit humankind.  Effectively managed MPAs support the blue economy by helping to sustain fish stocks and bolstering tourism.

Despite these significant benefits, only three percent of the ocean is part of an MPA, and less than one percent is fully protected in a marine reserve.  That’s a tiny percentage when you consider how much we depend on the ocean to support life on Earth.  It provides food for billions of people, generates over half the oxygen we breathe, and even regulates our weather and climate.

The United States is committed to effectively managed MPAs as a key component of safeguarding ocean health and sustainability.  MPAs cover about 32 % of U.S. marine waters (3,930,000 square kilometers).  This includes 395,000 sq km of fully protected no-take reserves – about 3 % of U.S. waters.  We strongly support and encourage efforts by other nations around the world to develop and implement science-based and effectively managed MPAs. 

To date the three Our Ocean conferences have generated commitments valued at over $9.2 billion to protect our ocean and committed to protect 9.9 million square kilometers (3.8 million square miles) of ocean – an area the size of the United States.

The world has agreed to a target of conserving at least 10 percent of coastal and marine areas, including through effectively managed protected areas, by 2020.  Through the Our Ocean conferences, we seek to help achieve and even surpass this goal. 

Updated list of commitments made at the 2016 Our Ocean conference.