About Marine Protected Areas

Introduction to MPAs

Marine Protected Area (MPA) is a term used across the globe to describe "any area of intertidal or subtidal terrain, together with its overlying water and associated flora, fauna, historical and cultural features, which has been reserved by law or other effective means to protect part or all of the enclosed environment" (Kelleher and Kenchington, 1992). The protection afforded is aimed at reducing destruction, damage or the reduction in distribution of marine species and/or habitats.

In the UK, MPAs are set up primarily for the conservation of our marine biodiversity and to protect species and habitats of international or national importance. The main types of MPA in the UK are Special Areas of Conservation (SAC). SACs, in addition to Marine Nature Reserves (MNRs) and Special Protected Areas (SPAs) are protected by statutory obligations. The UK also has voluntary MPAs such as Voluntary Marine Conservation Areas (VMCAs) and Voluntary Marine Nature Reserves (VMNRs).

Some areas of the sea and/or coast are protected incidentally against damage or disturbance. Such areas include historic wrecks and the areas in the immediate vicinity of oil and gas rigs. There are also areas that are closed permanently (commonly known as 'closed areas') to various types of fishing activity. Such closures are invariably set up in response to dwindling fish stocks and are therefore designed to enhance fisheries. Examples include the no trawling areas established by the North Eastern Sea Committees off the Yorkshire coast, the boxes in the North Sea and Irish Sea to protect spawning herring and the mackerel box in the western channel which protects the juveniles of the western mackerel stock.

The interactive map illustrates the location of the different MPAs in the UK. For each site there is information about its designation, interest features and a link to a relevant website.