Enhancing Regional Capabilities
The National Marine Sanctuary Program has matured over the last decade, from a loose collection of sanctuaries into to a system of 13 sanctuaries and one coral reef ecosystem reserve. Along with this growth in the system’s size, the program has greatly increased its budget and staff, expanded its community participation, and has started to address resource management issues on an ecosystem basis. These factors have placed different needs on how the sanctuaries should be managed. In response to these changing needs, the sanctuary program has taken small but calculated steps towards developing and implementing a regional structure for the past several years. In 2005, the sanctuary program formally began implementing a regional structure.
The benefits of implementing a regional management structure are substantial. It will enable the sanctuary program to efficiently integrate assets; coordinate activities with other organizations and partners; maximize the program’s intellectual and resource capital; and to act on specific recommendations from NOAA, U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the President’s U.S. Ocean Action Plan that call for greater regional integration and ecosystem-based management.
Another major benefit will be better coordination with other federal and state resource management agencies (e.g. National Park Service, fishery management councils). All federal agencies operate under some type of regional organization structure and some states have more than one sanctuary off its coast. A regional sanctuary presence will promote more efficient and consistent coordination with these important management partners.
Implementation of the regional management structure will be a phased process based on the availability of funding. Regional staffing levels will remain small for at least the next few years, reflecting a continued priority to fund existing sanctuaries and programs and to better allow each region to slowly develop and evolve their own regional focus and priorities. The public will experience no changes in the current education, science and resource protection programs currently underway throughout the sanctuary system. In fact, our goal is that this new management approach will only enhance our efforts to manage America’s ocean and Great Lakes treasures.