6 of the Largest Marine Protected Areas in the World

Marine Protected Areas safeguard a small percentage of the world’s marine areas; they are put in place to ensure protection from damaging fishing practices and unethical tourism.There are many Marine Protected Areas around the world, and hopefully there will be more and more in the future. We are going to look at why these areas were created, why they are so important to keep, and dive into 6 of the largest Marine Protected Areas in the world.

What is a Marine Protected Area?

Marine Protected Areas are protected areas around the world of oceans, seas, estuaries, or in the US, the Great Lakes. These areas range from wildlife refuges to research facilities. Marine Protected Areas are created for a conservation purpose, and restrict human activity in order to protect natural or cultural resources. These restrictions include: Development, fishing practices, moorings, and bans on removing or disrupting marine life.

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Why is it important to have Marine Protected Areas?

Water stores more than 90% of the carbon dioxide in the air, and gets rid of 30% of it! So protecting our marine areas is so important. But only around 5-7% of the world’s ocean is currently looked after and conserved in Marine Protected Areas. Hopefully this number will increase over time. 

Here are some reasons why it is important to have Marine Protected Areas:

  • They replenish and safeguard ocean life
  • They allow a safe breeding ground for endangered marine species
  • They help restore ocean ecosystems and increase biodiversity
  • They help with scientific research in marine conservation
  • They provide employment and encourage income through sustainable fishing and tourism

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6 of the largest Marine Protected Areas in the world

Now we know why these areas exist, we can have a little look at some of the largest ones around the world.

1. Galapagos

The Galapagos Marine Reserve is one of the most biologically diverse Marine Protected Areas in the world, and it is also one of the largest. The marine reserve sits around 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, and covers 51,352 square miles.

The Galapagos marine reserve is home to a wide range of species from whales and dolphins, to albatrosses, sharks, sea lions, penguins, raysmarine iguanasturtles, and tropical fishes. According to the Galapagos National Park Administration over 2,900 marine species have been monitored in this Marine Protected Area.

2. Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef Coast Marine Park is located in Australia’s Queensland waters adjoining with the Great Barrier Reef. This Marine Protected Area takes up around 132,806 square miles and accounts for much of the barrier reef. 

The Great Barrier Reef is considered one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are over 1,500 species of fish on the Great Barrier Reef, six species of turtles, 5,000 species of mollusc, and around 215 species of birds. Visitors to the reef might also be lucky enough to spot minke and humpback whales, dolphins, and dugongs in deeper waters.

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3. Cook Islands

The Cook Islands (also known as Mārē Moana) is the world’s largest Marine Protected Area. It is situated in the Pacific Ocean and takes up an area of nearly 600 square miles.

The Cook Islands is a Marine Protected Area and a critical breeding ground for many endangered species such as the green turtle and the Hawaiian monk seal. There are over 25,000 species of fish, 1,000 species of crustaceans, and 4,000 species of molluscs in the waters of the Cook Islands.

4. Pelagos

The Pelagos sanctuary is located in the north-western Mediterranean Sea between ItalyFrance, and the Island of Sardinia. It is an area of around 33,783 square miles and was created as an agreement between Italy, Monaco, and France, to protect marine mammals.

The Pelagos sanctuary is home to 8,500 macroscopic species, representing between 4%-18% of marine species worldwide. There are twelve species of cetaceans in the Pelagos sanctuary, the common dolphin and the sperm whale included, both of which are listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. The bottlenose dolphin, the striped dolphin, and the fin whale are also found in this Marine Protected Area and are listed as Vulnerable.

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5. Prince Edward Islands

Over 1240 miles southeast of South Africa in the Indian Ocean, you can find the Marine Protected Area of Prince Edward Islands; An area that takes up 69,973 square miles of sea. 

This Marine Protected Area was created with the intention to stop the decline of the over-exploited Patagonian toothfish, and also to reduce the seabird bycatch of the fishery, mainly of albatrosses and petrels. Prince Edward Islands provides a habitat for orcas, and breeding seabirds. It is also a breeding ground for the southern elephant seal, the sub-Atlantic fur seal, and the Antarctic fur seal. 

6. Chagos

Chagos is a Marine Protected Area located in the central Indian Ocean. It is in the British Indian Ocean Territory of the United Kingdom, and is one of the largest protected areas of any type (land or sea) on Earth. Chagos takes up 250,000 square miles of ocean water.

Established by the British government on 1 April 2010, Chagos is the most biodiverse marine area in the United Kingdom’s waters by far. It has an extremely diverse and healthy coral cover, over 784 different species of fish, including the Chagos clownfish, and is an important safe space for overfished pelagic species including manta rays, sharks, and tuna.

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These are just a handful of Marine Protected Areas, there are many more and they all serve the same purpose: To protect precious marine species. Hopefully with time more of these areas will be established and we can continue to replenish our struggling oceans.

Do you want to do more to help the world’s oceans? Check out our 10 Top Tips for Sustainable Diving.