diver examining the shipwreck two brothers

A visitor explores the beaches of Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. Photo: Kate Thompson/NOAA

Take Only Memories, Leave Only Footprints
A Guide for Ocean Etiquette

by Chiara Zuccarino-Crowe & Elizabeth Weinberg

Because we love our sanctuary resources and want you to appreciate them, the National Marine Sanctuary System sees every visitor as a potential steward of the ocean and Great Lakes. The system protects America’s most iconic natural and cultural marine resources. When you visit sanctuaries, help us preserve these resources for future generations — and have a whale of a time!

Planning a trip to one of your national marine sanctuaries this year?

Here are five tips to be an effective sanctuary steward:

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1. Take only pictures

While it may seem harmless to pick up that shell and put it in your pocket, think of how barren sanctuaries would become if everyone else took a souvenir, too. On the flip side, make sure you don’t leave anything behind. Fishing line can entangle animals, and that plastic bag you brought your lunch in does a pretty good impersonation of a jellyfish snack for a sea turtle.

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2. Keep your distance

For your safety and that of the animals in our protected areas, make sure you’re keeping your distance — regulations and guidelines suggest staying 150 to 1,000 feet back, depending on the location and type of wildlife. If an animal appears stressed, you are too close and need to back away cautiously. Plus, keeping your hands to yourself helps keep sanctuaries healthy.

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3. Don’t mix Pets & wildlife

That cute seal may look cuddly, but it could turn out to have a nasty bite. We understand that you may want to share your experience in these special places with your pets, but make sure to keep them leashed and under control. Wild animals recognize dogs as predators and may flee or try to fight back, and may also spread diseases to your pets if they get too close.

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4. know before you go

Read about the wildlife, viewing sites and local regulations to get the most from your wildlife viewing experience. Sanctuary websites and visitor’s centers are perfect ways to get acquainted with the sanctuary before you visit. With a little advanced planning, you can have an amazing time visiting your national marine sanctuaries while caring for all of their inhabitants.

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5. Be considerate!

Did you know 42 million people visit the sanctuaries each year? These places may seem quiet, but you’re not the only one there! Be considerate of other visitors. If you notice other visitors behaving in a way that disturbs the wildlife or other viewers, speak up. Be friendly and respectful, and help encourage everyone at the sanctuary to do their part as ocean stewards.


samoan women in traditional dress

When watching orcas and other whales in national marine sanctuaries, always give them plenty of space. Photo: Karlyn Langjahr/NOAA