Office of National Marine Sanctuaries

By Matt Dozier

America is a nation filled with special places, from the sweeping grandeur of the Rocky Mountains to the idyllic shores of the Florida Keys.

open quote marksThe movement for the conservation of wild life and the larger movement for the conservation of all our natural resources are essentially democratic in spirit, purpose, and method.
end quote marks
- Theodore Roosevelt

From an early age, our children learn about Yellowstone, Yosemite, Mount Rushmore, Gettysburg, the Grand Canyon - iconic locations whose names resonate with deep cultural and historical significance. We celebrate these places for their breathtaking scenery, but they mean more to us than just images on a postcard. They are part of the fabric of America, sources of national pride and inspiration that are recognized by all for their extraordinary worth.

What makes a place special? Is it scenic beauty? Economic value? Unique or endangered natural resources? Scientific or historical significance? All of these traits and more can contribute to our appreciation of a place, and different people often value the same place for different reasons.

The wreck of the RMS Titanic, for instance, is an iconic piece of America's cultural memory. The dramatic, emotionally gripping story of the ship's sinking 100 years ago has been retold countless times and captivated millions of people. But the wreck site itself is also a somber memorial, a historical monument, and a scientific laboratory.

And yet, a place need not be grand or spectacular to have special meaning to us. Think about a place that's special to you.

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A humble field or stream where you used to play as a child could be every bit as important to you as a national park or monument. The emotional connections we form with special places shape who we are, our memories and our values. They inspire us, support and sustain us, influence our perspectives and become part of our identity.

One characteristic is shared by all special places: They are irreplaceable. Fear of losing something evokes a strong emotional response from those who care about it, and when a special place is under threat, we will push hard to save it. And the ocean - 72 percent of this planet - is under threat.

In 1969, a disastrous oil spill off Santa Barbara - the biggest in U.S. history at the time - coated beaches with black sludge and killed marine life along hundreds of miles of picturesque Southern California coastline. The public outcry for better protection of this special place and other places like it in our ocean helped drive the creation of the National Marine Sanctuary System in 1972.

scuba diver on a boat
For 40 years, our national marine sanctuaries have worked to protect special areas in our coastal and ocean waters. The sanctuaries are national treasures of extraordinary aesthetic beauty, biodiversity, historical connections and economic productivity.

Even more important than what they protect, however, is what they stand for: the idea that it's worth preserving not just these 14 unique areas, but all places, both within sanctuaries and without; under the sea and all around us. Sanctuaries help people recognize a shared set of human values that are critical to how we navigate a complex, changing world.

As Theodore Roosevelt once said, "The movement for the conservation of wild life and the larger movement for the conservation of all our natural resources are essentially democratic in The movement for the conservation of wild life and the larger movement for the conservation of all our natural resources are essentially democratic in spirit, purpose, and method." He was talking about our responsibility to make hard choices as we consider the importance of those resources not only in the present, but in the future.

When we heed President Roosevelt's words and take responsibility for the places that matter to us, it creates an ethic of conservation that will make the world a better place - for our own sake, and for the sake of generations to come.

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