Classifying Levels of Protection in Marine Protected Areas

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are an important tool for the conservation of marine species and ecosystems. Yet despite the significant differences between marine and terrestrial systems in terms of their critical ecological processes, stresses, and relationships with cultural systems, methods used to characterize levels of protection for biological diversity in MPAs are all derived from schemes developed for terrestrial systems. A new system designed to classify levels of protection in MPAs is proposed, based on criteria specifically relevant to marine systems. MPAs are characterized by each of the seven criteria: designated use, quality of natural character, extent of protection throughout the year, extent of zoning into sub-areas for multiple uses, public access, extraction of resources, and size with respect to supporting critical ecological processes. Five levels of protection are defined, labeled I– V: Wilderness Management Area (Level I), Research Management Area, Ecological Management Area, Human Recreation Management Area, and Sustainable Resource Management Area (V). A level is assigned to an MPA based on the level that matches the largest number of categories across all seven criteria. The uses and benefits of this system of classification relative to existing systems are discussed and examples of its application are illustrated using data on 83 MPAs in California (USA) and 10 globally.

Al-Abdulrazzak, D. and S.C. Trombulak. 2012. Classifying levels of protection in marine protected areas. Marine Policy 36: 576-582.

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