This paper presents a new approach to sea ice segmentation in synthetic aperture radar (SAR) intensity images by combining an edge-preserving region (EPR)-based representation with region-level MRF models. To construct the EPR-based representation of a SAR image, edge strength is measured using instantaneous coefficient of variation (ICOV) upon which the watershed algorithm is applied to partition the image into primitive regions. In addition, two new metrics for quantitative assessment of region characteristics (region accuracy and region redundancy) are defined and used for parameter estimation in the ICOV extraction process towards desired region characteristics. In combination with a region-level MRF, the EPR-based representation facilitates the segmentation process by largely reducing the search space of optimization process and improving parameter estimation of feature model, leading to considerable computational savings and less probability of false segmentation. The proposed segmentation method has been evaluated using a synthetic sea ice image corrupted with varying levels of speckle noise as well as real SAR sea ice images. Relative to the existing region-level MRF-based methods, testing results have demonstrated that our proposed method substantially improves the segmentation accuracy at high speckle noise and achieves on average 29% reduction of computational time.