The National Marine Sanctuaries Act allows NOAA to identify, designate and protect areas of the marine and Great Lakes environment with special national significance due to their conservation, recreational, ecological, historical, scientific, cultural, archaeological, educational, or aesthetic qualities as national marine sanctuaries.

Designation Process Steps

NOAA identifies areas to consider for national marine sanctuary designation through the community-based Sanctuary Nomination Process. Nominations that successfully complete the process are added to an inventory of areas NOAA could consider for designation. The process for designating a new national marine sanctuary has four steps:


SCOPING: NOAA announces its intent to designate a new national marine sanctuary and asks the public for input on potential boundaries, resources that could be protected, issues NOAA should consider and any information that should be included in the resource analysis.


SANCTUARY PROPOSAL: NOAA prepares draft designation documents including a draft management plan, draft environmental impact statement that analyzes a range of alternatives, proposed regulations and proposed boundaries. NOAA may also form an advisory council to help inform the proposal and focus stakeholder participation.

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PUBLIC REVIEW: The public, agency partners, tribes and other stakeholders provide input on the draft documents. NOAA considers all input and determines appropriate changes.

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SANCTUARY DESIGNATION: NOAA makes a final decision and prepares final documents. Before the designation becomes effective, the Governor reviews the documents. Congress also has the opportunity to review the documents.

The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries serves as the trustee for a network of underwater parks encompassing more than 620,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters from Washington state to the Florida Keys, and from Lake Huron to American Samoa. The network includes a system of 16 national marine sanctuaries and Papahānaumokuākea and Rose Atoll marine national monuments.