What are Marine Reserves?

A marine reserve is identified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which helps the world find pragmatic solutions to our most pressing environment and development challenges, as "Strictly protected areas set aside to protect biodiversity and also possibly geological/geomorphological features, where human visitation, use and impacts are strictly controlled and limited to ensure protection of the conservation values. Such protected areas can serve as indispensable reference areas for scientific research and monitoring." In 2008, Oregon's Ocean Policy Advisory Committee defined Oregon's marine reserves as "an area within Oregon's Territorial Sea or adjacent rocky intertidal area that is protected from all extractive activities, including the removal or disturbance of living and non-living marine resources, except as necessary for monitoring or research to evaluate reserve condition, effectiveness, or impact of stressors."

To foster ocean health and improve resilience to negative impacts, marine reserves complement other management efforts to restore and sustain ocean ecosystems - to ensure oceans provide the full suite of economic, social, and environmental benefits long-term by increasing the abundance and diversity of marine life within the reserves. In 2012, Oregon completed designation of five marine reserve sites within its state waters (0-3 nautical miles offshore).

What are Marine Protected Areas?

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are areas of the ocean protected for a specific conservation purpose, allowing for some, but not all, uses. MPAs are intended to provide lasting protection for part or all of the natural and cultural resources therein. Oregon's marine reserves have marine protected areas associated with them.

Why are Marine Reserves and Marine Protected Areas Important?

Scientists have developed a strategy for protecting ocean resources by establishing a system of marine reserves and marine protected areas. The goal is to create underwater havens for fish and wildlife that will contribute to a healthy ocean for future generations, while leaving the vast majority of ocean waters open to current uses. Scientific studies throughout the world, including those in temperate regions and those in regions with rocky reef habitats (similar to Oregon coastal areas), have proven that marine reserves and protected areas help boost marine diversity and revitalize the ocean ecosystem.


What are the goals and objectives of marine reserves?


  • Protect areas within Oregon’s Territorial Sea that are important to the natural diversity and abundance of marine organisms, including areas of high biodiversity and special natural features.
  • Protect key types of marine habitat in multiple locations along the coast to enhance resilience of nearshore ecosystems to natural and human-caused effects.
  • Site fewer than ten marine reserves and design the system in ways that are compatible with the needs of ocean users and coastal communities. These marine reserves, individually or collectively, are to be large enough to allow scientific evaluation of ecological effects, but small enough to avoid significant adverse social and economic impacts on ocean users and coastal communities.
  • Use the marine reserves as reference areas for conducting ongoing research and monitoring of reserve condition, effectiveness, and the effects of natural and human-induced stressors. Use the research and monitoring information in support of nearshore resource management and adaptive management of marine reserves.

Size Matters


The Scientific Technical Advisory Committee size and spacing guidelines state, "To maximize benefits to fished species, reserves should have an longshore span of 5-10 km of coastline and preferably 10-20 km, based on adult neighborhood size and movement patterns analyzed for the Central California system." (OPAC STAC 2008).

ODFW's Ecological Monitoring Plan (2015)
Frequently Asked Questions about Oregon's Marine Reserves and Protected Areas

Oregon Public Broadcasting's, "Rockfish and Marine Reserves"


The Oregon Marine Reserves Partnership is a fiscally sponsored project of The Ocean Foundation, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization.