For decades, the 344,400-km2 Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in Australia was widely cited as “the world’s largest MPA”. Then, in June 2006, the US designated the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) Marine National Monument, covering 362,000 km2 of marine area. So that means the NWHI site is now the world’s largest MPA…right?

It might not be that simple. There are marine areas under conservation management that are much larger in size than either the Great Barrier Reef or NWHI. The question is, do they qualify as MPAs? MPA News has always taken an expansive view on what constitutes a marine protected area. The following poll seeks your view.

MPA News Poll: Which of the six candidates below is the world’s largest MPA, and why?
Cast your vote and tell us the reason behind your choice. We will print the results in a future issue.

(As a reminder, the IUCN definition for marine protected area is: “An 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.” [IUCN, 1992] The six categories of protected area management, as defined by IUCN, are at

The candidates:

A. Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument (US)

  • Size: 362,000 km2
  • Designated in June 2006 by presidential proclamation (MPA News 8:1);
  • Commercial fishing within the site will be phased out within five years, and recreational fishing is prohibited;
  • Traditional Native Hawaiian cultural practices will be allowed by permit under certain conditions;
  • Protection is permanent.

B. Aleutian Islands Habitat Conservation Area (US)

  • Size: 957,000 km2
  • Designated in July 2006 by National Marine Fisheries Service;
  • Consists of a permanent network of gear closures in US waters to protect seafloor habitat for deepwater corals and other sensitive features (the press release is available at;
  • Nearly all of the site (96%) is closed to bottom trawling;
  • Additionally, six areas with particularly high-density coral and sponge habitat are closed to all bottom-contact fishing gear, including longlines and pots;
  • Use of other fishing gears is allowed with regulations.

C. Mediterranean/Black Seas bottom trawl closure

  • Size: 1.63 million km2
  • Designated in 2005 by the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM);
  • Permanently bans bottom-trawl fishing in waters deeper than 1000 meters in the Mediterranean and Black Seas for the purpose of protecting deep-sea biodiversity (MPA News 6:9);
  • Enforcement is the responsibility of the 24 member states of the GFCM;
  • Most of the closure is outside of national waters, which could make enforcement in these high-seas areas a challenge when vessels from non-GFCM nations are involved;
  • Use of other fishing gears is allowed with regulations.

D. Marine area covered under the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Living Marine Resources (CCAMLR)

  • Size: 35.7 million km2
  • Entered into force in 1982 as part of the Antarctic Treaty System;
  • Managed primarily for conservation under the Convention’s articles, using precautionary and ecosystem approaches (;
  • Creation and enforcement of conservation measures, including fishing restrictions, is the responsibility of 31 CCAMLR member states;
  • Non-member states are not subject to CCAMLR measures.

E. IWC Indian Ocean Whale Sanctuary

  • Size: approximately 70 million km2
  • Established in 1979 by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to protect cetacean species from commercial harvest (;
  • Must be reviewed and reconsidered every 10 years;
  • A second IWC whale sanctuary, in the Southern Ocean, is roughly 30 million km2.

F. The high seas

  • Size: 218 million km2
  • Waters outside of any national jurisdiction are subject to the United Nations moratorium on large-scale pelagic driftnet fishing, which took effect in December 1992.