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What is an MPA?



Marine protected areas (MPAs) are the ocean equivalent of national parks. They limit human activities to protect the natural and cultural values of a place.


As well as providing an undisturbed habitat for species to thrive, research shows that MPAs provide enormous ecological benefits and can help ocean areas be resilient in the face of other future threats, like climate change and ocean acidification[1].


MPAs can be set up with varying levels of restrictions.  The strictest MPA is a no-take reserve, where fishing or collection of any type is strictly prohibited.  Other MPAs may have more lenient rules on fishing, but will generally be more regulated than the surrounding waters. 


MPAs are particularly powerful when set up as a network or group. These networks are spatially separated, but oceanographically connected, thus they can achieve conservation goals more effectively[2]. This is particularly true for the waters around Antarctica, where many species, such as krill, toothfish, penguins, whales and seals utilise large swaths of the Southern Ocean.


CCAMLR has made a commitment to designate a network of Southern Ocean MPAs by 2012, with the Ross Sea identified as a key area for protection. But nations with an interest in the Antarctic toothfish fishery, including New Zealand, are likely to oppose protection of the entire Ross Sea.








[1] Lubchenco, J et al (2007) The Science of Marine Reserves. Partnership for interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans. http://www.piscoweb.org/outreach/pubs/reserves


[2] IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas (2008) Establishing resilient marine protected area networks – making it happen. Washington, DC.


Adelie penguins in the Ross Sea.© John Weller


Adelie penguins are vulnerable to predation by Leopard seals and Killer whales at the ice edge.

© John Weller



The Ross Sea is home to the Minke whale, the smallest baleen whale in the world.© John Weller


The Ross Sea is home to the Minke whale, the smallest baleen whale in the world.© John Weller
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