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Gauging the state of U.S. marine protection

SeaStates 2021 is a rigorous, quantitative accounting of fully and strongly protected MPAs in America’s ocean updated annually by the team at First published in 2013, our annual reports are intended to measure US progress as a whole, and state progress towards effective marine protection in their coastal waters.

Oceans are essential to human survival and prosperity, yet our activities are damaging many ecosystems and pushing numerous critical marine species toward extinction. Many marine biologists advise policy makers that the best way to maintain the oceans’ diversity, abundance and resilience is to protect marine species in their ecosystems, especially in marine protected areas (MPAs) that minimize extractive activities such as fishing, mining, and oil and gas development.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of MPAs in the US and around the world lack the regulations, characteristics, and management critical to ensuring they successfully safeguard marine life. They lack fishing regulations altogether, have minimal rules or lack other critical elements. No-take marine reserves, in contrast, prohibit all extractive activities and deliver the conservation protection that marine life need to thrive and that the public assumes when the words “marine reserve” or “marine protected area” are used. Protecting biodiversity in marine reserves increases the abundance and diversity of marine life inside the reserve and typically results in the export of marine life to surrounding areas. In short, no-take MPAs effectively protect marine life, can secure food resources for millions of people by exporting fish outside the MPA, and prevent loss of species. Strongly protected areas are those in which extraction is quite limited and conservation benefits are high but not as high as fully protected areas.  These include Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, Rose Atoll Marine National Monument and Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument which are all large and isolated but allow some very restricted recreational fishing.

In our 2021 report, we combine ‘fully protected’ no-take marine reserves, with large and isolated ‘strongly protected’ MPAs where commercial extraction is prohibited, but recreational fishing is carefully managed, highly restrictive, and subsistence use is minimal. We use the word ‘strongly’ in the map below to refer to both categories. Take a deeper dive into the full Sea States 2021 here!