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What are Marine Protected Areas?

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) form a worldwide network of remarkable sites where sea-management standards are set.

An MPA is a defined zone where natural and/or cultural resources receive special protection. MPAs vary widely in their conservation methods and in the habitats they encompass – from open ocean to estuaries. They do not necessarily exclude human activities, but rather seek to manage them in a sustainable way.

Generally, MPAs strive to find the best possible compromise between ecological and economic constraints. As such, they are crucial because:


  • The oceans cover more than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface;
  • More than 3.5 billion people depend on the oceans for their substance, notably for food, but also for tourism, trade and energy;
  • Over half of the world’s population lives within less than 40 miles of a shoreline;
  • The oceans face massive threats from overfishing, marine pollution, marine habitat destruction and acidification.

MPAs therefore have a central role to play in the major challenges that humankind will face in the near future: fighting and coping with climate change, reducing poverty and sharing resources.

Browse the interactive map of marine protected areas worldwide on

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