Wednesday May 24, 2023


The United States is famous for its vast system of national parks on land. From the Grand Canyon to the Great Smoky Mountains, these parks altogether encompass more than 130,000 square miles.

Far larger, however, is the country’s network of parks in the ocean — its marine protected areas, or MPAs. They cover more than a million square miles, which amounts to roughly 26 percent of all US waters.

These areas form one of the largest networks of marine protected areas in the world. Together, they’re also close to achieving a key conservation target known as 30 by 30, a goal pledged by the Biden administration to conserve at least 30 percent of all land and ocean within US jurisdiction by 2030.

But while impressive, these numbers are also misleading.

Marine protected areas do safeguard enormous amounts of ocean against harmful activities, such as commercial fishing and oil drilling, yet nearly all of that protection is in just one spot: the central Pacific. That leaves coastal ecosystems across most of the continental US — where industrial fishing is common — largely defenseless.

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