Marine Protected Areas 102: The Benefits of MPAs

Last week we explored what MPAs are and mentioned the different types of marine protected areas in Canada. Today we dive into why MPAs are important and the role they play within the ocean and the economy. 

Why are MPAs important?

By protecting entire ecosystems we can protect the full diversity of marine life that lives there, from corals to whales, the ecological relationships between them, and the habitats on which they depend.

In addition to protecting sedentary species that spend their entire lives in one place like corals and some rockfish, MPAs can also benefit migratory animals, like whales and dolphins, by protecting their prey, important feeding areas, and nursery habitats.

For example, nursery grounds for humpback whales are protected in Mexico and Hawaii, but the whales spend the summer feeding off our coast. Canada can contribute to humpback conservation by protecting their migration routes, feeding grounds, and their prey. Offering migration corridors and feeding grounds that are protected from fishing and shipping would reduce the effects of noise pollution and the risks of entanglement in fishing gear and collisions with ships. Protecting the eelgrass beds that herring spawn in will make sure that the whales have plenty of food in the future.

By protecting entire ecosystems and ecological relationships, MPAs can help depleted populations recover, support sustainable fisheries, and safeguard the health of our ocean for generations to come.

MPAs can also help to support species and ecosystems in the face of an uncertain future. Climate change will cause rising sea temperatures and sea levels, acidification, and decreasing oxygen.  By reducing threats caused by human activities, MPAs can ensure that populations are less stressed and more resilient in the face of climate change impacts.

How do MPAs help people?

The benefits of MPAs are not limited to conservation. Other MPAs benefits include:

  • Contributing to global food security. Over 1.5 billion people rely on the ocean for their daily source of protein. MPAs help rebuild depleted fisheries to ensure these nutritious resources will provide for people now and for future generations. Well-protected MPAs also produce more fish, which often “spill over” into surrounding waters, supporting local fisheries and communities.
  • Conserving kelp forests, eelgrass and other shoreline ecosystems. These ecosystems can protect coastal communities and shorelines from erosion and sea level rise. This is but one of the many ecosystem services that a healthy ocean provides (an estimated worth of $24 trillion).
  • MPAs also support sustainable economies like ecotourism and recreation.

photos by Kim Conway and Joanne Gervais

Marine Protected Areas 101: What is an MPA found here