Let’s celebrate this first official World Oceans Day by recognizing the world’s 15 largest marine protected areas (MPAs) created to safeguard marine habitat around the world. Here’s the list and a bit about each one, plus some further comments and a special request below:

Megaptera novaeangliae1. Phoenix Islands Protected Area, Kiribati (410,500 sq km) -— the largest MPA in the world, nearly the size of the land area of Sweden.

2. Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, USA (362,000 sq km) -— the highly protected Northwest extension of the Hawaiian islands with humpback whales, spinner dolphins, coral reefs.

3. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and World Heritage Area, Australia (345,400sq km) -— one of the earliest MPAs and the first of any size, now 1/3 highly protected.

4. Mariana Trench Marine National Monument, USA (246,624 sq km) -— designated Jan. 2009 as a highly protected area, includes deepest trench in the ocean at 11 km (7 mi) deep, over a mile deeper than Mt. Everest is high.

5. Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, USA (224,311 sq km) -— also designated Jan. 2009 as a highly protected area in several blocks across the vast central Pacific.

6. Prince Edward Islands Marine Protected Area, South Africa, (180,000 sq km) -— designated May 2009 with zoned protection including some highly protected areas, largest MPA in the southern ocean, includes killer whale and southern right whale habitat and important protection for the heavily fished Patagonian toothfish.

7. Macquarie Island Marine Park and World Heritage Area, Australia (162,000 sq km) -— World Heritage Area with unique geology (oceanic crust raised above sea level within an oceanic basin which creates a barrier to the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, and known for outstanding seabird, subantarctic fur seals, humpback whales and southern right whales, among others.

8. Galapagos Marine Resources Reserve and Galapagos Whale Sanctuary, Ecuador (158,000 sq km) -— the marine side of Darwin’s natural laboratory, a cetacean mating, breeding as well as migration area, and feeding grounds for dolphins and smaller whales, helps protect the land-based treasures.

9. Northeast Greenland National Park, Greenland (110,600 sq km) -— world’s largest national park with Arctic cetacean populations and outstanding bird and fish populations.

10. Pelagos Sanctuary for Mediterranean Marine Mammals, Italy-France-Monaco-High Seas (87,492 sq km) —- world’s first high seas MPA, also a transnational MPA set up to protect fin, sperm, Cuvier’s beaked whales and various dolphin species.

11. Svalbard Nature Reserves and National Parks, Norway (72,424 sq km) —important protection to 12 nm (nautical mile) limit around these fragile Arctic islands.

12. Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve, Australia (65,000 sq km) -— highly protected MPA on World Heritage List with unique benthic and pelagic environment in subantarctic waters with large whales, dolphins, seals and penguins.

13. Cabo de Hornos Biosphere Reserve, Chile (49,000 sq km) -— southernmost South America land and marine-based park.

14. Commander Islands State Biosphere Reserve, Russia (36,490 sq km) -— the largest MPA in Russia with orcas, humpback, sperm, minke and Baird’s beaked whales.

15. Savu Sea Marine National Park, Indonesia (35,000 sq km) -— blue whales and sperm whales in a tropical sea.

Of the top 15, 11 are found in or at the edge of the Pacific. The other oceans have some work to catch up! Size does matter in terms of marine protection because ocean ecosystems are large and somewhat fluid, and marine life itself is highly mobile.

As we move toward 2012 and the targets countries have agreed in terms of creating effective MPAs, we need to focus our efforts to protect the sea by developing much larger and more extensive networks of MPAs in every ocean. We need a lot more good science to identify marine habitats in need of protection -— not just whale and dolphin habitat but all marine life. And we need the public, every one of us, on board to help in these efforts.

What have you done for the ocean today? Let us all think and engage in dialogue about what we can do. One good starting point is to sign the Global Petition for Marine Protected Areas, sponsored by WDCS, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, who are working for 12 large MPAs by 2012. You can sign it here.

Guest post by
MarineBio Director of Marine Mammals, Erich Hoyt