South Atlantic Fishery Management Council

Marine Protected Areas

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are a network of marine environments managed to recover overfished stocks and maintain healthy fish stocks, fisheries, and associated habitats. SAFMC MPAs may include naturally occurring, artificial bottom, or water column habitats. They may prohibit harvest on seasonal or permanent time periods to achieve desired fishery management goals.

Use the interactive map and drop-down menus below to explore the Council’s MPAs.

Deep-water MPAs

Eight MPAs are in place in the South Atlantic to protect a portion of the long-lived, “deep water” snapper grouper species such as snowy grouper, speckled hind, and blueline tilefish. The MPAs range in size and include both natural habitats and artificial reefs.

A System Management Plan review evaluates the efficacy of the MPAs in meeting management objectives. A System Management Plan Workgroup recommends items including research and monitoring, outreach and education, resource protection, management effectiveness, and site characterizations of the protected areas.

Schooling Snowy Grouper on an underwater ship wreck at Snowy Wreck MPA on Haloween.
Photo credit: Green Peace research trip to Snowy Wreck MPA

Deep-water MPA Regulations

  • No fishing for or possession of any snapper grouper species.
  • No bottom longline gear allowed.
  • Vessels (both commercial and recreational) may transit (direct, non-stop progression) through the MPAs with snapper grouper species onboard with fishing gear appropriately stowed.
  • Trolling for pelagic species such as tuna, dolphin, mackerel, and billfish is allowed within the MPAs.

Deep-water MPA Descriptions

Snowy Grouper Wreck MPA
Map of the Snowy Grouper Wreck MPA.

Location: East of Cape Fear, NC.
Size: Approximately 15 X 10 nautical miles.
Coordinates: 33°25’N, 77°4.75’W | 33°34.75’N, 76°51.3’W | 33°15.75’N, 77°W | 33°25.5’N, 76°46.5’W
Description: This MPA includes a wreck site known to have once held spawning aggregations of snowy grouper.

Northern South Carolina MPA
Map of the Northern SC MPA.

Location: Southeast of Murrells Inlet, SC.
Size: Approximately 10 X 5 nautical miles.
Coordinates: : 32°53.5’N, 9 78°16.75’W | 32°53.5’N, 78°4.75’W | 32°48.5’N, 78°16.75’W | 32°48.5’N, 78°4.75’W
Description: Although known for holding many small Vermillion snapper, this site has the potential of protecting several species of deepwater snappers and groupers, mid-shelf species, and associated habitats.

Edisto MPA
Map of the Edisto MPA.

Location: Southeast of the Charleston, SC harbor.
Size: 10 X 5 nautical miles.
Coordinates: 32°24’N, 79°6’W | 32°24’N, 78°54’W | 32°18.5’N, 79°6’W | 32°18.5’N, 78°54’W
Description: This MPA lies in an area where the Gulf Stream deflects off a deepwater bank called the “Charleston Bump.” This deflection creates a series of persistent clockwise swirls and upwelling currents referred to as the “Charleston Gyre,” resulting in nutrient-rich water beneficial to the early life stages of fishes.

Charleston Deep Reef MPA
Map of the Charleston Deep Reef MPA.

Location: Southeast of the Charleston, SC harbor.
Size: Approximately 7 X 5 nautical miles.
Coordinates: 32° 9.65’N, 79° 9.2’W | 32° 7.155’N, 79° 5.595’E | 32° 2.36’S, 79° 9.975’W | 32° 5.04’S, 79° 13.575’E
Description: The Charleston Deep Reef MPA is proposed as an experimental artificial reef site as a result of public comment and support for creating artificial reefs.

Georgia MPA
Map of the Georgia MPA.

Location: Southeast of the mouth of Wassaw Sound, GA.
Size: 10 X 10 nautical miles.
Coordinates: 31°43’N, 79°31’W | 31°43’N, 79°21’W | 31°34’N, 79°39’W | 31°34’N, 79°29’W
Description: This area lies east of an area called the “Triple Ledge” which is an essential area for commercial fishermen.

North Florida MPA
Map of the North Florida MPA.

Location: East of Jacksonville, FL.
Size: 10 X 10 nautical miles.
Coordinates: 30°29’N, 80°14’W | 30°29’N, 80°2′ W | 30°19’N, 80°14’W | 30°19’N, 80°2’W
Description: The location of this MPA represents a compromise between fishermen and the Habitat Advisory Panel in order to balance biological benefits with social and economic impacts.

St. Lucie Hump MPA
Map of the St. Lucie Hump MPA.

Location: Southeast of St. Lucie Inlet, FL.
Size: 4 X 2 nautical miles.
Coordinates: 27°8’N, 80°W | 27°8’N, 79°58’W | 27°4’N, 80°W | 27°4’N, 79°58’W
Description: The area is heavily targeted by fishermen trolling for pelagic species and experiences a high level of vessel traffic, however, it is expected to have a high potential for protecting deepwater snapper grouper species as well as some mid-shelf species.

East Hump MPA
Map of the East Hump MPA.

Location: Southeast of Long Key, FL.
Size: 5 X 10 nautical miles.
Coordinates: 24°36.5’N, 80°45.5’W | 24°32’N, 80°36’W | 24°32.5’N, 80°48’W | 24°27.5’N, 80°38.5’W
Description: This area comprises pinnacle-like formations consisting of hardened layers of sandy carbonate sediments that support various marine plants and animals, including deepwater corals.

Oculina Experimental Closed Area

In 1994, the South Atlantic Council created the Oculina Experimental Closed Area (OECA), which closed the area to all bottom fishing indefinitely in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the reserve for the management and conservation of snapper grouper populations. The OECA is located within the Oculina Bank HAPC. 

Oculina Experimental Closed Area Restrictions

In the closed area, no person may:

  • May fish for snapper-grouper species in the area or retain snapper-grouper in or from the area (any snapper-grouper taken incidentally by hook-and-line gear must be released immediately by cutting the line without removing the fish from the water).
  • Use a bottom longline, bottom trawl, dredge, pot, or trap.
  • If aboard a fishing vessel, anchor, use an anchor and chain, or use a grapple and chain.
  • Fish for rock shrimp or possess rock shrimp in or from the area on board a fishing vessel.
  • The possession of Oculina coral is prohibited.

Spawning Special Management Zones

The Council established five Spawning Special Management Zones (SMZs) that became effective on July 31, 2017. This final rule prohibits fishing for or harvesting of snapper-grouper species year-round in the spawning SMZs. The final rule establishes other restrictions in the spawning SMZs, including transiting with snapper-grouper species on board and anchoring.

Fish reproduce by spawning, releasing tens of thousands of eggs and sperm into the water to be fertilized. Some species spawn by gathering in large numbers in areas with favorable ocean currents and habitats. Some of these important spawning areas were identified during the development of Snapper Grouper Amendment 36 and were designated as spawning SMZs.

Juvenile Vermillion snapper swims in the dark.

To help protect spawning populations, fishing for or possession of species within the snapper grouper management complex is prohibited within these areas. The spawning areas, established in Amendment 36 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan, are thought to be crucial multi-species spawning hot spots.

System Management Plan for Spawning SMZs

The Council, along with state and Federal partners, has developed and approved a System Management Plan (SMP) for the Spawning SMZs to serve as a blueprint for future research, outreach, and management. The SMP, by outlining data gaps, research needs, and estimated project costs, will serve as a guide for researchers applying for project funding. In turn, the management action items and evaluation metrics included in the SMP serve as a tool to guide managers in evaluating whether the goals and objectives of proposed Spawning SMZs are being met.

Spawning SMZ Regulations

  • Inside the spawning SMZ, fishing for, retention, and possession of fish species in the snapper-grouper complex are prohibited year-round by all fishers.
  • Anchoring inside spawning SMZs is prohibited (except for Areas 51 and 53).
  • Transit through the spawning SMZs with snapper-grouper species onboard is allowed if gear is properly stowed.

Spawning SMZ Descriptions

North Carolina Site (South Cape Lookout)
North Carolina SMZ map.

Location: Southeast of Wilmington, NC.
Size: 3.64 square miles.
Coordinates: 33° 53.040’N, 76° 28.617’W | 33° 52.019’N, 76° 27.798’W | 33° 49.946’N, 76° 30.627’ W | 33° 51.041’N, 76° 31.424’W

South Carolina Sites (Devil’s Hole, Area 51, Area 53)
South Carolina SMZs on a map.

Devil’s Hole

  • Location: East of the Charleston Harbor, SC.
  • Size: 3.03 square miles
  • Coordinates: 32° 34.311’N, 78° 34.996’W | 32° 34.311’N, 78° 33.220’ | 32° 32.748’N, 78° 33.220’W | 32° 32.748’N, 78° 34.996’

Area 51

  • Location: East of the Charleston Harbor, SC.
  • Size: 3 square miles.
  • Coordinates: 32°35.25′N, 79°28.6′W | 32°35.25′N, 79°27′W | 32°33.75′N, 79°27′W | 32°33.75′N, 79°28.6′W

Area 53

  • Location: East of the Charleston Harbor, SC.
  • Size: 3 square miles.
  • Coordinates: 32°22.65′N, 79°22.25′W | 32°22.65′N, 79°20.5′W | 32°21.15′N, 79°20.5′W | 32°21.15′N, 79°22.25′W
Florida Site (Warsaw Hole)
Florida SMZ map.

Location: East of the Florida Keys.
Size: 3.60 square miles.
Coordinates: 24° 22.277’N, 82° 20.417’W | 24° 22.277’N, 82° 18.215’W | 24° 20.932’N, 82° 18.215’ W | 24° 20.932’N, 82° 20.417’W