All about Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)
What is a Marine Protected Area or MPA?
The term ‘marine protected area’ or ‘MPA’ describes an area of ocean in which human activity is restricted to conserve the marine environment and the wildlife that lives there. Under this umbrella term there are many different types of protected areas, including marine parks, marine reserves and special areas of conservation, each with its own level of protection.
What is a marine reserve?
A marine reserve is an MPA, or part of an MPA, with the highest level of protection. This usually means no commercial fishing or industrial use of the area.
What is a Special Area of Conservation or SAC?
A SAC is an area designated by Europe which protects certain land and marine habitats and species, including bottlenose dolphins and harbour porpoises. Responsibility for management lies with national governments.
What is a marine park?
A marine park is an MPA which allows various human activities to take place, sometimes using zones within defined boundaries. Certain areas might be zoned for strict wildlife protection; other areas might be open for fishing, whale watching and other marine tourism. Marine park was first used in Australia to describe the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
Approximately one-third of this 344,400 km sq park is zoned for high protection and the rest allows various human activities, including fishing.
Some people point out that whales and dolphins are
highly mobile, so how can ‘fixed’ MPAs help them?
Whales and dolphins move considerable distances but they have key areas which are critical
to them, as ongoing ‘homes’ or as seasonal breeding or feeding grounds. If we protect these areas properly, the chances of survival for whole populations improve.
In some cases, where animals are present only seasonally, protection measures can reflect this. For example, minke whales are mainly found in Scottish coastal waters over the summer months and so MPA management to protect minke whales could occur between April and October. MPAs do not always stop harmful human activity, but they are a big leap forward, and they often highlight issues that require further investigation or management.
Why are MPAs important?
MPAs are as important as protected areas such as reserves and parks on land. The more we learn about whales and dolphins, the more we realise that their homes need just as much protection as the homes of animals that live on the land. MPAs may not solve all the problems in an area or get rid of all the threats, but in conjunction with wider protection measures throughout our oceans, they are a giant step in the right direction.