Skip to Content

About Marine Protected Areas

What are Marine Protected Areas?


There are many definitions for Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). However, they can be defined broadly as a clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.

There are several types of MPAs in the UK, which in combination are intended to form an ‘ecologically coherent and well-managed network’ as a contribution to the effective conservation and sustainable use of the UK’s marine environment:

Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) – designated to protect habitats and species of European importance.

Special Protection Areas (SPAs) – classified to protect bird species of European importance and regularly occurring migratory birds.

Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) and Nature Conservation Marine Protected Areas – designated to protect nationally important species, habitats, ecological processes and features of geological/geomorphological importance.

Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) / Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) – designated to protect any area of special interest for its flora, fauna, geological or physiographical features. These are coastal (and terrestrial) designations with some sites protecting marine features. ASSIs are designated in Northern Ireland, which are equivalent to SSSIs in England, Scotland and Wales.

Ramsar sites – wetlands of international importance designated under the Ramsar Convention. These are coastal (and terrestrial) designations with some sites protecting marine features.

MPAs are just one of the tools that can help us to effectively conserve the marine environment and are used to compliment wider approaches such as those associated with marine planning more broadly.

Published: .

Pages in About Marine Protected Areas

Related Categories

Back to top