Marine Protected Area/Marine Reserve: What’s the Difference?

marine protected areaThose who enjoy outdoor pursuits on or in the water often encounter protective or restrictive language as to the activities that may or may not be permitted in various areas. Terms such as Marine Protected Area or Marine Reserve are increasingly imposed, and it can be helpful to know how they are different, when they overlap, and what they mean, before heading out for a day of adventure on the waves. This post will address those questions and shed some light on the terms.

Marine Protected Areas

Worldwide, these aquatic regions, both salt and fresh, are protected spaces where fishing or other exploitative activities are prohibited. They differ slightly from a Marine Reserve or an underwater park, in that they often have a sliding scale of prohibitions emplaced. That means that certain activities may be acceptable, but with caveats, such as fishing. Individuals may enjoy the casual pursuit of most species during periods of the year, with a stricter and perpetual prohibition on the catching or killing of certain protected species.

In other cases, no taking of any resources from a protected area is permitted under any circumstance. These prohibitions are often implemented to preserve fragile ecosystems as a whole, rather than simply protect individual species endangered by human exploitation. Overall, these protected spaces can include such outright prohibitions or simply light restrictions, such as no-wake zones, no-take zones, and injunctions to be mindful of disturbing the flora and fauna during SCUBA diving and snorkeling excursions.

Marine Reserves

marine reserveThese are often confused with marine parks. While there is some overlap in the two areas, these protected spaces often serve as an ideal space in which scientists monitor changes in aquatic environment, species movements, and run various tests. While they are also a variety of Protected Area, they fall into the more strictly No-Take category, which prohibits the procurement of items or living species from the area. Another key difference is that these reserves tend to be located in coastal waters, not freshwater resources. Very little progress has been made in declaring any deep-sea reserved areas to date, although their benefit to scientific study and preservation movements is noted.

Enjoying marine activities can be an excellent way to gain a deeper understanding of the world in which humans must live. It’s also great fun. However, when individuals boat, fish, SCUBA dive, snorkel, and hike along shorelines, they should be mindful of the environment into which they are adventuring. Knowing its restrictions and understanding the delicate aspects of a particular region can increase the potential for enjoyment and decrease the likelihood of breaking a law.

Images via socalmpaFranco Folini


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