Climate Change and the National Marine Protected Areas Center

Rachel M. Gregg
Posted on: 1/05/2011 - Updated on: 10/28/2021

Posted by

Rachel Gregg

Project Summary

The National Marine Protected Areas Center (MPA Center) is preparing for climate change by building a national system of MPAs. This national system is meant to be geographically and ecologically diverse and represent local, state, regional, and national interests. These protected areas can foster resilience to climate change impacts while conserving natural and cultural marine resources of national importance.


Executive Order 13158, released in 2000, called for the development of a scientifically-based national system of MPAs representing diverse marine ecosystems and cultural resources. The MPA Center, also established in 2000, is charged with facilitating the management of protected areas in U.S. waters. The MPA Center collaborates with MPA managers to protect the nation’s natural and cultural marine resources. The MPA Center’s goals include:

  1. Improving MPA design and facilitating stewardship and effectiveness of MPAs;
  2. Encouraging coordination and collaboration at international, national, regional, and local levels regarding MPA activities; and
  3. Advancing public knowledge and support for MPA programs.

As its primary goal, the MPA Center is building a national network of MPAs. The purpose of this national network is “to support the effective stewardship, conservation, restoration, sustainable use, and public understanding and appreciation of the nation’s significant natural and cultural marine heritage and sustainable production of marine resources, with due consideration of the interests of and implications for all who use, benefit from, and care about [the] marine environment.” These interconnected, protected areas can strengthen the resilience of marine resources to the effects of global climate change, including sea level rise, increasing ocean temperatures, melting sea ice, ocean acidification, and altered weather patterns.


In its 2010–2015 Strategic Plan, the MPA Center prioritized the use of MPAs as a means to foster resilience to climate change. Ways in which a national network of MPAs may increase resilience to climate change include:

  • Reducing non-climate stressors (e.g., limiting or eliminating destructive fishing practices, overfishing, pollution)
  • Establishing MPAs in areas where species are expected to be more resilient to climate change impacts
  • Protecting resources most at risk from climate change (e.g., unique or rare) by creating climate refugia
  • Designing MPAs to adjust for species range shifts and support connectivity
  • Acting as sentinel monitoring sites from which researchers can evaluate the effects of global climate change

The updated 2019–2024 Strategic Plan calls for improved design, management, and overall effectiveness of MPAs by increasing adaptive management to respond to climate change and existing and emerging uses of these areas (e.g., boating, aquaculture).

Outcomes and Conclusions

The existing inventory of MPAs includes 1,700 sites, including those managed by federal agencies (e.g., U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), coastal states and territories, and federal/state partnerships. The MPA Center is also the designated U.S. lead for the North American Marine Protected Areas Network (NAMPAN), a network of MPAs between Canada, Mexico, and the United States. NAMPAN was established through the Commission for Environmental Cooperation that developed a Rapid Vulnerability Assessment Tool with EcoAdapt that helps managers evaluate the implications of climate change.

Executive Order 13158: Marine Protected Areas (2000)
Marine Protected Areas in a Changing Climate
North American Marine Protected Area Rapid Vulnerability Assessment Tool
Office of Ocean & Coastal Resource Management Highlight
The MPA Inventory


Gregg, R. M. (2020). Climate Change and the National Marine Protected Areas Center [Case study on a project of the National Marine Protected Areas Center]. Version 2.0. Product of EcoAdapt’s State of Adaptation Program. (Last updated May 2020)

Project Contacts

Affiliated Organizations

The National MPA Center was established in 2000, soon after Executive Order 13158 went into effect. The U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Department of the Interior implement the Executive Order through the National MPA Center. The MPA Center is located within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an agency of the Department of Commerce, and is a division of NOAA's Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management.

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