Frequently Asked Questions
What is a national marine sanctuary?
What is the National Marine Sanctuary System?
What is the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries?
How does a sanctuary get established?
Why is it important to have a sanctuary and why are they important to coastal communities?
What is an ecosystem?
How does a sanctuary protect marine life?
What are marine resources and why must they be protected?
Don’t other federal/state/local agencies already do this?
Q: What is a national marine sanctuary?
A: Our national marine sanctuaries embrace part of our collective riches as a nation. Within their protected waters, giant humpback whales breed and calve their young, temperate reefs flourish, and shipwrecks tell stories of our maritime history. Sanctuary habitats include beautiful rocky reefs, lush kelp forests, whale migrations corridors, spectacular deep-sea canyons, and underwater archaeological sites. Our nation’s sanctuaries can provide a safe habitat for species close to extinction or protect historically significant shipwrecks. Ranging in size from less than one square mile to 137,792 square miles, each sanctuary site is a unique place needing special protections. Natural classrooms, cherished recreational spots, and valuable commercial industriesmarine sanctuaries represent many things to many people.
Q: What is the National Marine Sanctuary System?
A: The National Marine Sanctuary System consists of 14 marine protected areas that encompass more than 170,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters from Washington State to the Florida Keys, and from Lake Huron to American Samoa. The system includes 13 national marine sanctuaries and the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.
Q: What is the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries?
A: The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, manages a national system of fourteen underwater-protected areas. Since 1972, the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries has worked cooperatively with the public and federal, state, and local officials to promote conservation while allowing compatible commercial and recreational activities. Increasing public awareness of our marine heritage, scientific research, monitoring, exploration, educational programs, and outreach are just a few of the ways the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries fulfills its mission to the American people.
Q: How does a sanctuary get established?
A: Under the 1972 Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act, the Secretary of the Department of Commerce is authorized to designate discrete areas of the marine environment as national marine sanctuaries to promote comprehensive management of their special conservation, recreational, ecological, historical, research, educational, or aesthetic resources. The U.S. Congress can also designate national marine sanctuaries. The President can also use the authority of the Antiquities Act to establish Marine National Monuments to be managed as part of the National Marine Sanctuary System.
Q: Why is it important to have a sanctuary? Why are sanctuaries important to coastal communities?
A: The primary objective of a sanctuary is to protect its natural and cultural features while allowing people to use and enjoy the ocean in a sustainable way. Sanctuary waters provide a secure habitat for species close to extinction and protect historically significant shipwrecks and artifacts. Sanctuaries serve as natural classrooms and laboratories for schoolchildren and researchers alike to promote understanding and stewardship of our oceans. They often are cherished recreational spots for sport fishing and diving and support commercial industries such as tourism, fishing and kelp harvesting.
Q: What is an ecosystem?
A: An ecosystem is the community of animals and plants and the environment with which it is interrelated. Within a sanctuary, the ecosystem includes all the living organisms, the ocean and its currents, the sea floor and shoreline, and the air and wind above. It may also include the freshwater watersheds that flow into the sanctuary and that are the spawning grounds for salmon and other fish species.
Q: How does a sanctuary protect marine life?
A: Sanctuary managers rely on a variety of mechanisms to understand and protect the sanctuary’s living and historical resources. The National Marine Sanctuaries Act, along with site-specific legislation and regulations, provides the legal framework outlining the activities that are allowed or prohibited. The sanctuaries implement a permit system to regulate and oversee potentially harmful activities in sanctuaries. This framework may be enhanced by the adoption of state and other federal laws and regulations.
Another important tool is “interpretive enforcement”, emphasizing education about responsible behavior as a proactive method to prevent harmful resource impacts from occurring in the first place.
Q: What are marine resources and why must they be protected? (Living and cultural)
A: The term “marine resources” broadly defines the living marine resources (plants and animals), the water and currents, and the ocean floor and shoreline with a sanctuary. It also includes the historical and cultural resources within a sanctuary, from shipwrecks and lighthouses to archaeological sites and the cultural history of native communities. Sanctuaries are established to protect areas that encompass unique or significant natural and cultural features.
Q: Don’t other federal/state/local agencies already do this?
A: Local, state and federal agencies may have overlapping regulations or other management authorities aimed at protecting specific marine resources. However, no other federal agency is directly mandated to comprehensively conserve and manage special areas of the marine environment like the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. Each agency may focus on different aspects or different resources, but generally their goals are consistent with protection and sustainable development of these marine areas. Coordination and cooperation among the responsible government agencies is key to successful sanctuary management.