Governments, organizations and ocean activists worldwide have succeeded in protecting special areas of the oceans by designating them as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). There are now 13,500 MPAs worldwide, created for a variety of reasons; from protecting shipwrecks of historical significance to conserving areas with special marine biodiversity.

map of GlobalMPAs, marine conservation institute

There are more than 13,500 MPAs worldwide, yet that represents less than three percent of the word’s oceans, according to the Marine Conservation Institute.


MPAs are worldwide and not easy to protect, james watt, marine protected areas, mpas, hawaii, coral reef, fish, marine lifeBecause of the enormous spread of geographic locations and legislative intent under which these MPAs were created it is difficult for mariners to understand what kinds of restrictions apply or even to know the exact physical limits of a particular, marine protected area. Many MPAs although described in terms of latitude and longitude, have never been digitally mapped. (photo –

Now a team of experts in software design, mapping; coastal law and geography have partnered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) .


Bringing Consistency and Clarity to MPA Data

The goal is to bring all MPAs into one data-set and make that information easily accessible from a boat. Led by Virgil Zetterlind of the California-based nonprofit Protected Seas the team gleaned most of their information from NOAA. Initially they have concentrated their efforts on the coastal areas of the U.S. creating layered maps that can pinpoint a boater’s location in regard to MPAs. The maps were then integrated into electronic charting software offered by Navionics, based in Italy.

Offshore Santa Barbara MPA mapping marine protected area off california

A layered map of the maze of protected areas off the Santa Barbara coast in Southern California. Image courtesy of Protected Seas.

It works like this: a boat captain with an iPad turns on the MPA software, taps the interactive map to locate his vessel in a restricted area. The maps also offer more detailed information about restricted activities and links to official sources. Those boats without electronic charts can view the MPA maps from a mobile-friendly public website. The charts will also be available eventually for tablets and smart phones. With the launching of the U.S. version Zetterling;s team has turned their attention to international sites.

“Using technology to help show those MPA boundaries would be a big step forward to raising public awareness,” says Mark Young, a conservation enforcement officer for The Pew Charitable Trusts in Washington, DC. Young’s particular interest is ending illegal fishing and without effective enforcement “MPAs become paper parks which don’t do any good”.


Improving Surveillance

AbacoBahamas, tom purves-flickrTo improve surveillance in MPAs, Zetterling’s team has also developed software for basic radar systems that are already available through most boating supply outlets. The entire marine monitoring (M2) system costs under $100,000 (USD) and includes the radar, building a land tower and equipping it with power and a WI-Fi link. The team’s software converts the radar data into user-friendly information making it easy to track boats.

(photo caption- Fishing boats in Abaco, Bahamas. The Bahamian government has set a goal of protecting 20 percent of the nation’s coastline, yet much of that area is difficult to effectively patrol. Photo Credit: Tom Purves/Flickr.)

Acquiring even the most basic information, such as how many boats are in a given area, allows MPA enforcement to deploy their assets with better efficiency

We’re trying to obtain that ever-elusive balance of human use and protection and we can’t be everywhere all the time, so that’s where technology comes in,” says Sean Hastings, NOAA’s coordinator for the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary in California. See the entire article from Mongabay.

by Bob Frerck, Blue Ocean Network


See these Related Blue Ocean Articles on MPAs:

Marine Protected Areas: Good News, Bad News
Trump Attacks EPA and Marine Protected Areas
Marine Protected Areas: Giant Leap for Fish Kind
Misool Ranger Patrol – Defending the Heart of Marine Biodiversity, Part I
Misool Ranger Patrol – Defending the Heart of Marine Biodiversity, Part II
Misool Eco-Resort Celebrates Ten Years of Marine Conservation
Illegal Trafficking of Wildlife: What You Need To Know!
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Traditional Fishing Communities: a Necessary Part of the Discussion


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