A marine park is a type of marine protected area (MPA). An MPA is a section of the ocean where a government has placed limits on human activity. Marine parks are multiple-use MPAs, meaning they have different zones allowing different types of activities.
Marine parks usually allow recreational activities, such as boating, snorkeling, and sport fishing. Most marine parks also include zones for commercial fishing, sometimes called open zones. They may also include no-take zones, which prohibit extractive activities, such as fishing, mining, and drilling.
Marine parks are very similar to local parks on land. They are used by the community and often have facilities to encourage their use. They also face many of the same problems as parks on land: overuse and pollution.
East End Marine Park, U.S. Virgin Islands
East End Marine Park protects the largest barrier reef system in the Caribbean Sea. It encompasses 155 square kilometers (60 square miles) of coral reef, shallow sea, and other marine habitats. East End also protects the eastern end of the island of St. Croix, including about 19 kilometers (12 miles) of coastline. Because East End includes both marine and terrestrial (land) habitats, it is considered a hybrid park.
This area of the U.S. Virgin Islands is biologically diverse. An estimated 400 species of tropical fish live in and around the East End, while 17 species of nesting seabirds rely on the park for food and shelter. Seagrass communities also thrive in East End. Seagrass is an important species, one of the few plants that live directly in the ocean. Sea turtles, manatees, fish, and many species of seaweed depend on the seagrass habitat for survival.
Some of the plant and animal species that call East End home are considered threatened or endangered. Elkhorn and staghorn corals dominate the reefs. Various species of brain coral, lettuce coral, star coral, and starlet coral are also found there. Scientists have recently discovered that the populations of these animals have been rapidly declining over the last three decades.
The park is also home to endangered green turtles, hawksbill turtles, and leatherback turtles. East End includes a turtle refuge, extending about a mile from St. Croixs primary turtle nesting beaches. The park also includes no-take zones, which are off-limits to fishing and harvesting in order to protect the turtles and other threatened species.
Most of East End Marine Park is made of open zones, where most extractive activity, including commercial fishing, is allowed. The only activity prohibited throughout the park is the removal of coral. Other zones are limited to recreational activities, such as sport fishing, boating, and scuba diving.
Kisite Mpunguti Marine Park, Kenya
Kisite Mpunguti Marine Park, in the Indian Ocean, is located off the south coast of Kenya. The park encompasses a marine ecosystem that includes four small islands surrounded by coral reefs. The three Mpunguti Islands are partially covered by dense equatorial rain forest, while Kisite Island is covered in low grasses.
The islands are not inhabited, and the ecosystems remain fairly pristine. No fishing or other extractive activities are allowed in the park. Transportation to the park is limited. These limitations reduce the threat of overfishing and pollution.
More than 250 species inhabit Kisite Mpunguti Marine Park, including angelfish, pufferfish, green sea turtles, hawksbill turtles, dolphins, and humpback whales. Seagrasses and tropical seaweeds also thrive in the park.
Kisite Mpunguti is a major destination for snorkelers and scuba divers. The warm water is clear, and the tropical ecosystems have species that exist nowhere else in the world. One of the most unusual species is the coconut crab, the largest land crab in the world. The legspan of a coconut crab can be up to a meter (3 feet). The dolphins that live in Kisite Mpunguti are also popular with tourists, who visit the park in boats, called dhows, from the mainland.
Tourists and historians also visit the islands for research. The islands are filled with caves, where slaves from Africas mainland were held captive before being shipped overseas.