Flying Through Sanctuaries

The biological communities of national marine sanctuaries are complex, and often hidden beneath the waves. But one group of animals plays a special role in helping scientists track sanctuary conditions: birds. Whether birds are resting during their long migrations, looking for their next meal, or caring for their hatchlings, the National Marine Sanctuary System provides important habitats. Where birds are found, what they eat, and how they behave helps scientists understand the health of ocean ecosystems. Plus, thanks to the variety of birds – from songbirds to seabirds! – that depend on national marine sanctuaries, sanctuaries are prime spots for birdwatching.

Green heron sitting on a branch

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is a birder's paradise. Green herons are one commonly-sighted bird here. Photo: Matt McIntosh/NOAA

White ibis with a crab in its beak

White ibis, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Photo: Matt McIntosh/NOAA

Great shearwater in flight

Great shearwater, Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Photo: Peter Flood

Common murres in a large group

Common murres, Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. Photo: NOAA

California brown pelicans on rocks

California brown pelicans, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Photo: Peter Pearsall/USFWS

albatross chick siting on a derelict net on the beach

The islands of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument are remote, but huge quantities of marine debris wash up on their shores each year, putting birds like Laysan albatross at risk. Photo: NOAA