Climate Change and the National Marine Protected Areas Center

Created: 1/05/2011 - Updated: 3/02/2020


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 to:

  1. Build a national system of MPAs;
  2. Facilitate stewardship and effectiveness of MPAs; and
  3. Encourage coordination and collaboration at international, national, regional, and local levels regarding MPA activities.

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 (MPA Center 2010).” 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 prioritizes 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

Outcomes and Conclusions

The existing inventory of MPAs includes 254 sites over 175,000 square miles. Of these areas, 58% are managed by federal agencies (e.g., U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), 37% are managed by states, and five percent are managed by federal/state partnerships. The MPA Center and partners plan to conduct a gap analysis of existing MPAs to determine areas that might be underrepresented in the current inventory, beginning with California in 2010-2011. The MPA Center is also the designated U.S. lead for the development of the North American Marine Protected Areas Network, an initiative to create a network of MPAs between Canada, Mexico, and the United States.


Information collected through publications. Last updated January 2011


Gregg, R. M. (2011). Climate Change and the National Marine Protected Areas Center [Case study on a project of the National Marine Protected Areas Center]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE:… (Last updated January 2011)

Project Contact(s)

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.


Scale of Project
Multilateral / Transboundary
National / Federal
Regional / Subnational
Sector Addressed
Conservation / Restoration
Target Climate Changes and Impacts
Air temperature
Culture / communities
Habitat extent
Invasive / non-native species, pests
Ocean acidification
Oxygen concentrations (hypoxia)
Phenological shifts
Range shifts
Sea level rise
Species of concern
Storms or extreme weather events
Water temperature
Climate Type
5-10 years
Type of Adaptation Action/Strategy
Natural Resource Management / Conservation
Enhance migration corridors and other connectivity measures
Create new refugia / Increase size and amount of protected areas
Design protected areas or lands to allow inland, altitudinal, or latitudinal movement
Reduce non-climate stressors
Effort Stage
In progress

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