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1st Edition of Marine Protected Areas for Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises

What is the difference between a marine protected area (MPA) and a sanctuary??

There is a bewildering array of names used for marine protected areas, or MPAs. The most important definition is the one used by most MPA practitioners. An MPA is defined by the World Conservation Union (IUCN 1994) as ‘any area of intertidal or subtidal terrain, together with its overlying water and associated flora, fauna, historical and cultural features, which has been reserved by law or other effective means to protect part or all of the enclosed environment.’

On this website as well as in the book Marine Protected Areas for Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises, we mainly use three terms to describe the various protected areas:

• the term ‘marine protected area’ or ‘MPA’ is used as a generic term for a multi-use IUCN Category I–VI area which may contain areas with strict reserves.
• ‘marine reserve’ means an area (often within a given MPA, sometimes synonymous with an MPA) with strict Category I protection.
• a national or international ‘sanctuary’, on the other hand, is a very large area designated as a refuge from hunting. This includes national waters where whale and/or dolphin hunting is banned, as well as the large ocean international whale sanctuaries set up through the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

The IUCN divides protected areas (PAs) into six main categories which represent a continuum from stricter protection to regimes designed for sustainable resource use:

Category Ia – Strict nature reserve (managed mainly for science);
Category Ib – Wilderness area (managed for wilderness protection);
Category II – National park (managed for ecosystem protection and recreation);
Category III – Natural monument (managed for conservation of specific natural or cultural features);
Category IV – Habitat/species management area (managed for conservation through management intervention);
Category V – Protected landscape/seascape (managed for landscape/seascape conservation and recreation); and
Category VI – Managed resource protected area (managed for sustainable use of ecosystems).

Please note that a given MPA may contain several IUCN categories covering several management objectives in a zoned protection scheme. An area classified solely as Category VI is an incomplete MPA; to become a true MPA, it must contain areas of higher protection such as natural reserves or other IUCN Category I core areas to protect essential critical habitat for species found in the MPA. Unfortunately, some governments have misinterpreted the IUCN categories and have taken to declaring MPAs using Category VI alone, without including areas with a higher level of protection or change in the management regime of the area (ie, essentially with all users and uses continuing on as they were before ‘protection’).

The IUCN protected area management categories have been used for MPAs as well as for the land-based protected areas (PAs) for which they were originally established. Please note that by itself the categorization of an MPA does not necessarily indicate size, design, degree of protection or even the full extent of management objectives, nor does it allow one to establish the degree of biological representation or effective management. Still, combined with other information, the categories do provide indications of the kind of protection intended. Also, note that outside the I–VI category system, there are several marine management areas that confer some measure of protection including fishing closures, restricted pollution areas, as well as the national and international high seas sanctuaries.

In practice, sanctuaries cannot ensure true comprehensive protection for cetaceans, or for anything else, when the area to be covered is large, such as the national waters of a country or an entire ocean basin – most or all of which is on the high seas outside national waters. But the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) and various other fisheries agreements and conventions hold great promise in terms of creating effective large-scale MPAs for cetaceans. The Pelagos Sanctuary for Mediterranean Marine Mammals with its comprehensive list of conservation measures – and to a lesser extent the Indian Ocean Sanctuary and the more recent Southern Ocean Sanctuary – may provide the building blocks.

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