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First-Ever National Ranking Shows Most Coastal States Failing to Protect Oceans

Today two leading marine science and conservation organizations, the Marine Conservation Institute and Mission Blue, issued the 1st-ever quantitative, scientifically rigorous national ranking of states’ protection of their ocean waters. SeaStates: How Well Does Your State Protect Your Coastal Waters? shows that most states and territories are failing to safeguard our nation’s marine life, seafood and coasts.

Oceans are crucial to our health and economy. Coastal counties include only 5.71% of the area in the lower 48 states but generate 35.54% of the Gross Domestic Product. Indeed, coastal counties generate $7,992 more GDP per person than inland and Great Lakes counties.

“Despite so many threats to their health, states are failing to protect our ocean waters,” said Dr. Lance Morgan, President of the Marine Conservation Institute. “No-take marine protected areas are the gold-standard for healthy oceans, but far too few states and territories are designating them.”

SeaStates measures the percentage of state’s waters they strongly protect. Being free from fishing, oil drilling and other extractive uses allows marine life in no-take marine reserves to thrive and recover their former abundance. That’s crucial because marine animals and plants maintain healthy oceans essential to people. As coastal areas face increasing overfishing and climate change, strong marine protected areas maintain biodiversity, fisheries and coastal economies. Dozens of studies show that no-take marine reserves provide more effective protection than weaker protected areas, often providing an overflow of marine life into surrounding waters. Many marine scientists recommend designating at least 20% of state waters as no-take areas as the best way to sustain ocean health.

“Whether you love our oceans for their beauty, for their fishes and marine mammals or for generating half of the oxygen we breathe, you should want them to be strongly protected. But most states in this report get a score of zero and only a handful are protecting even 1%. That’s not good enough when our oceans are facing grave threats like overfishing and pollution. America’s oceans and people deserve better,” said
eminent marine biologist and President of Mission Blue, Dr. Sylvia Earle. “The United States has a long way to go if we want to be a world-leader in marine conservation.”

SeaStates shows that 15 coastal states (AL, AK, CT, DE, GA, LA, MD, MA, MS, NH, NJ, NY, RI, SC, TX) out of 23 have no (zero) no-take areas. Six states (FL, OR, WA, NC, VA, and ME) have designated barely 1% or much less of their coastal waters as no-take areas. Only 2 states strongly protect over 5% of their waters in no-take reserves. Hawaii ranks 1st for ocean protection with 22.9% fully protected (most inside the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument), while California ranks 2nd with 8.7%.

“SeaStates shows that very few places are getting the protection they need” said Dr. Morgan “and most states are doing a very poor job of safeguarding your oceans. It’s time for that to change. Seabirds, whales, groupers and deep sea corals all need refuges where we do everything possible to protect them.”

The science team at Marine Conservation Institute compiled SeaStates using, the world’s best information source on marine protected areas.

To read the full report visit


  1. Rob Moir on June 2, 2013 at 10:13 am

    It is odd for MCI to take a political approach to assessing ocean conservation instead of an ecosystem-based approach. States only manage directly 3 miles of ocean out from the shore. It is not surprising CA and HI score high because they have pelagic ocean ecosystems at their doorsteps and nearly all commercial takes are close to shore, well within 3 miles.
    CA, HI, and AK, are essentially management islands, each unto itself. All other States manage ocean ecosystems in concert with neighboring states, federal agencies, and ocean users. In New England, because we permit lobstermen, clammers, and residents in small boats to work our coastal waters, these states will never get a high grade from MCI. Apparently, MCI does not recognize the sacrifices made by fishermen from New Jersey to Maine to not fish in the Western Gulf of Maine Closure Areas, closed for over a decade. These protected areas were chosen for their importance to cod, to rebuild cod stocks. That cod have not responded proves that fishing, or here the absence of fishing, was not the critical factor for rebuilding cod stocks. Ocean ecosystems are so dynamic with shifting baselines that one can never go home again. More like cowboys with cattle and less like ranchers with barbed-wire fences.
    On the other hand, in 1952 when 130,000 tons of redfish came ashore to market, the redfish population crashed. Government responded with a number of strict fishery management measures. A redfish rebuilding plan was implemented. The significant sacrifices of fishermen paid off and the Acadian redfish population rebounded. Managed by the New England Fishery Management Council’s Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan, Redfish were declared fully rebuilt just in June of 2012. Redfish is the white fish that fed us and the military through World War II. Next time you enjoy fish and chips, you’ll need to thank a fisheries council for good work.