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Underwater Parks

Protected areas in the oceans are as spectacular --
and important -- as national parks on land


For more than a century, America has been protecting its most vital and beloved landscapes as national parks. Grizzly bears roam through Yellowstone and Glacier national parks without fear of hunters. Sequoias live to be 1,000 years old in Sequoia National Park, and bald cypress thrive in the Everglades.

However, the fish, coral reefs and kelp forests of our oceans receive almost none of these protections. Less than one hundredth of one percent of U.S. waters are fully closed to oil drilling, mining, fishing or other industries that take a devastating toll on ocean life.

Research shows that protected ocean areas harbor more fish, bigger fish, healthier habitat and more diverse life than unprotected areas. And these safe havens have a spillover effect, as abundant marine life begins to populate waters beyond the borders of the reserve. These healthy, intact ecosystems will become even more important as the ocean is stressed by global warming and ocean acidification.

In recent years, the United States and other nations, as well as international authorities, have moved to protect key underwater areas as part of efforts to restore the health of the world’s oceans. The five underwater parks featured here are some of the few protected areas in U.S. ocean waters.

Together, they contain some of the most diverse and extraordinary plant and animal communities on earth. Creating more underwater parks can help protect these gems of the sea and help keep our oceans vibrant and productive.

last revised 7/29/2013

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