Grey Seals
© Jack Versiani Holt

What are MPAs set up to protect?

MPAs in the UK are mainly set up to protect seabed habitats and the plants and animals that call them home. There are a handful that also protect animals that move around rather than staying in one place all the time, like harbour porpoise and fish. Protecting each of these areas is vital to look after important and vulnerable creatures and habitats, but the power of the sites is in the fact that they are part of a bigger jigsaw.

MPAs are not isolated islands – they are part of a joined up network that is carefully designed to keep our seas healthy, diverse and productive. For the network to work, it needs to include enough examples of all the key species and habitats that make our seas what they are. Sites also need to be big enough and close enough together for animals to be able to move between them. But, perhaps most importantly of all, they need to be actively managed so that there is a clear understanding of the effect they are having.

A network that works will benefit us here in the UK, but it also contributes to something much bigger. The healthy function of our global +ocean – and this is something that is essential for all our health and continued wellbeing.

Some undersea habitats around the UK have been damaged by human activities in the past. Places like this are sometimes designated as MPAs not because of their current state, but because of their potential. The aim is to give these places a break and enable them to recover to a much healthier state than they currently exhibit. There are already some great examples of recovery in MPAs around the UK.


Other places have been designated because they are already amazing! In places like this MPA designation can be a way to help make sure that sites are never damaged. Some habitats may not seem particularly remarkable or appealing, but each fulfils an enormously important function in the bigger ecosystem and helps to keep our seas healthy.

Actions you can take

  1. Report your wildlife sightings
  2. Browse Marine Protected Areas

Did you know?…

Over half a million people have voiced their support for ‘marine protected area’ designation in the UK through our campaigns

To the shelf limits, Scotland has 61% of UK waters, of which 23% are now in existing or new ‘marine protected areas’