Have you ever taken a ferry to Dry Tortugas National Park, or gone fishing for halibut off the coast of Alaska? If your answer is "yes," chances are pretty good that you've been in one of our country's marine conservation areas (also referred to as marine protected areas) without even realizing it. There are over 1,700 marine protected areas in the U.S. with different purposes and varying levels of protection, although some might be a bit more intriguing than others.
Conservation Area Activity Limits
Human activity limits are set in marine conservation areas to help protect specific ecosystems, fisheries, or cultural resources. These limits are based on scientific research and can be established by all levels of government. A wide range of habitats can be included in conservation area activity limits, such as the ocean, coastal areas, inter-tidal zones, estuaries, and the Great Lakes.
Examples of Marine Conservation or Protected Areas. These examples of marine protected areas will remind you just how amazing and complex our ecosystems can be.
1. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
Situated about 70 miles west of Key West, lies Dry Tortugas National Park. The park is not just known for being home to historic Fort Jefferson, but also for its magnificent coral reefs and abundance in marine life. Commercial fishing at Dry Tortugas National Park is not permitted, and recreational fishing is restricted in order to protect the diverse range of fish species that can be found in this federal conservation area.
2. Southeast Alaska Dive Fishery Research Areas, Alaska
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has restricted commercial dive fishing in these research areas with a primary conservation focus on sustainable production. The Southeast Alaska Dive Fishery Research Areas work to protect three species of invertebrates: sea cucumbers, red sea urchins, and geoducks. To assist with the fishing conservation efforts of these species, commercial dive fishing impacts are assessed on a rotational calendar. This way, invertebrate stocks can be surveyed or opened to commercial harvest every second, third, or more years, depending on the species and assessment results.
3. Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Michigan
This 4,300 square-mile conservation area is located in northwestern Lake Huron. The sanctuary’s cold, fresh water preserves nearly 100 documented shipwrecks dating back to the mid-1800s. Through ongoing research and education, the sanctuary and its supporters work to ensure that Thunder Bay’s underwater treasures will be protected for future generations to witness first-hand.
4. Soquel Canyon State Marine Conservation Area, California
The Soquel Canyon State Marine Conservation Area is an offshore marine wildlife conservation area located in Monterey Bay. The steep and rocky walls of Soquel Canyon offer the ideal habitat for several depleted deepwater rockfish species. In addition, the conservation of this area helps to preserve fragile deepwater corals, maintain forage opportunities for seabirds, and provide feeding areas for endangered blue whales.
5. Acadia National Park, Maine
The intertidal zone and estuaries within Acadia National Park are protected marine conservation sites. While these types of areas may represent a small portion of the park overall, they are integral to the ecosystem. For example, Acadia supports more than 1,000 different plant species that thrive in environments that range dramatically from tidal estuaries to acidic bogs to intertidal zones to freshwater lakes and ponds. Ecosystem conservation and water conservation efforts at Acadia National Park are important to preserve the natural balance.
Since you've learned about a few of the marine conservation areas across the U.S., why not find out how you can help protect your local fisheries by practicing proper catch and release? If you understand how to properly release your catch for its best chance at survival, you will be contributing to the sustainability of your state's fish populations for the future.