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Monday, October 11, 2010

Marine Protected Areas: An Overview

Harold F. Upton
Analyst in Natural Resources Policy

Eugene H. Buck
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

There continues to be congressional interest in limiting human activity in certain areas of the marine environment, as one response to mounting evidence of declining environmental quality and populations of living resources. The purposes of proposed additional limits would be both to stem declines and to permit the rehabilitation of these environments and populations. One method of implementing this concept is for Congress to designate areas where activities would be limited, often referred to as marine protected areas (MPAs). Translating the MPA approach into a national program, however, would require that Congress resolve many economic, ecological, and social dilemmas.

The complexity of creating a program is compounded by controversy over the uses that would be allowed, curtailed, or prohibited in MPAs; the purposes of a system of MPAs; and the location, size, and distribution of MPA units. One possible way to get past some of these complexities is to think of MPA designations as a form of zoning in the ocean. Experiences related to designating MPAs in other countries also may be instructive. However, questions have arisen about the effectiveness of administration and enforcement, the benefits and costs of MPAs, and the evaluation of outcomes at some sites.

Numerous marine sites have been designated by federal and state governments for some kind of protection. Perhaps the best-known federal sites are units in the National Marine Sanctuary System. The National Marine Sanctuaries Act authorizes the Secretary of Commerce to designate areas of marine and Great Lakes environments to protect cultural and natural resources. The Bush Administration supported the MPA concept and it continued most of the Clinton Administration initiatives to coordinate protection of marine resources at designated sites, including implementing Executive Order 13158 (May 2000), which endorsed a comprehensive system of MPAs. President Bush designated the Papah
ānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument) in 2006, and the Marianas Trench, Pacific Remote Islands, and Rose Atoll Marine National Monuments on January 6, 2009.

Additional actions by Congress would be needed to create an MPA system that could be characterized as integrated or comprehensive. Some issues that would likely be raised in congressional discussions include whether a comprehensive system is desired or needed; what the basic characteristics of units in any MPA system should be; how MPAs might be used to resolve use conflicts; and whether adequate funding would be authorized and appropriated to both enforce the protected status and evaluate the ecological and social impacts of MPAs. In the 110
th Congress, several bills related to MPAs were introduced, including a bill to reauthorize the National Marine Sanctuary Act, but none of the legislation was enacted. In the 111th Congress, bills have been introduced to expand boundaries for the Gulf of the Farallones (CA), Cordell Bank (CA), and Thunder Bay (MI) National Marine Sanctuaries.

Date of Report: September 29, 2010
Number of Pages: 26
Order Number: RL32154
Price: $29.95

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