It Takes A Community
By Elizabeth Moore
The favorite nickname of Key West, Florida is "The Conch Republic." Alpena, Michigan hosts the annual Great Lakes Lighthouse Festival and Port Angeles, Washington, the annual Dungeness Crab & Seafood Festival. San Francisco wanders down to meet its bay and Boston bustles in its harbors and ports. Honolulu means "sheltered harbor" in Hawaiian and Olema, California comes from a Miwok word meaning "little coyote." What do all these American communities have in common? Though they differ vastly in setting, size, and character, all of these municipalities share the distinction of serving as gateway communities to national marine sanctuaries.
Gateway communities are the towns and cities adjacent to a park. They serve as welcome areas, providing lodging and dining choices, offering other tourism options and outdoor recreation outfitters, and generally enhancing the visitor experience. For national marine sanctuaries and other ocean parks, gateway communities may also provide some of the main public access points to the sanctuary, via beaches, piers, and boat ramps.
Gateway communities often enjoy added prosperity from their parks and are celebrated for their liveability; 10 national park gateways communities were included on a recent list of the best small towns in the country. (One sanctuary gateway community--Port Angeles, Washington--was also listed.) Local and regional parks alone generate nearly $140 billion annually in economic activity and support almost 1 million jobs in their communities; national park visitors brought another $17 billion with them to gateway regions and communities. For example, visitors to California's Point Reyes National Seashore in 2015 pumped $108 million into the local communities. A study in 2016 found that the services provided by national parks—for example, protecting historic landmarks and unique natural features, or creating recreational opportunities for local communities—were valued by the American public to the tune of $30 billion.
What have sanctuaries done for the economies of their gateway communities? Like other ocean parks, they protect the resources and qualities creating the character and economies of our coast: amazing wildlife; productive habitats ranging from brine seeps to coral reefs; seascapes of surpassing beauty; cultures nearly as old as the sea itself; and centuries of maritime tradition. About $8 billion annually is generated and 140,000 jobs supported in sanctuary communities in fields as diverse as commercial fishing, tourism and hospitality industries, recreational activities, research and science, and filming and photography. We're an excellent return on a small investment: our partners match every dollar we spend on education, doubling our impact for half the cost.
Beside purely economic value, there are other benefits to being a sanctuary gateway community. Sanctuaries preserve the stretches of coast and sea where we love to play, so that a little girl in the Florida Keys can throw out a line in the same place her grandfather did as a child and a boy from Monterey can learn to surf the same waves as his grandmother. Families walking Washington's coasts can experience the same rugged beaches and sweeping seascapes as Native Americans once did, and still do today.
Sanctuaries spread the word about ocean conservation and ocean parks far and near. By engaging all types of audiences and working with partners, we teach communities , both in person and on the web, about these special places. Sanctuaries provide educational opportunities for students in the classroom, educators on a boat, and lifelong learners online and in visitor centers. We reach millions on social media, through engrossing videos, enchanting images, and informative articles.
Sanctuaries harness the life experiences of seniors and the youthful zest of students as volunteer citizen scientists who help us study and protect everything from wrecks to whales to water quality. In California, three generations of residents volunteer with and learn from sanctuaries, from children at Ocean Guardian schools, to teenagers in the LiMPETS Program, to adults in Team OCEAN, Beach Watch, and the Naturalist Corps. Island dwellers in Hawai‘i can count whales, and Massachusetts denizens can track migratory seabirds.
Sanctuaries mobilize the democratic ideals of our nation. Members of the community sit on our sanctuary advisory councils and their working groups, providing advice to sanctuary superintendents and other decisionmakers about local issues and needs. Public hearings and comment periods are held on important management and regulatory proposals so that residents can speak their minds. Grassroots efforts drive the sanctuary nomination process to help build an inventory of areas to consider for future sanctuary designations. Friends groups provide opportunities for activism and volunteer opportunities abound.
Sanctuaries engage underserved and minority segments of the community because America, and its ocean, are for everyone. We support research on the contributions of minorities to the military history and maritime traditions of our nation, including helping in efforts to find the lost slave ship Guerrero in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the training aircraft of the Tuskegee Airmen resting in Lake Michigan. Outreach efforts in our multi-ethnic communities include translating signs and other materials into Spanish and working with non-governmental organizations such as Diving With a Purpose and Hispanic Access Foundation to make ocean recreation, education, and research accessible to all.
Sanctuaries preserve the watercraft, nautical history, and maritime heritage in the stories of lives spent working the ocean, and defending the nation on, above, and under the water. We help the towns along our coasts, as well as the virtual communities built of service and passion, to honor the veterans of all our wars, Civil War to World War II, and beyond. We remember the dead and provide closure to families haunted by unanswered questions about their loved ones.
Sanctuaries offer authentic, transformative experiences that balance our busy, technological lives and are forever in the face of constant flux. Walk on the beach with the sand between your toes and the wind in your face. See dolphins gliding in the wake of your boat. Exhilarate surfing atop a wave and exhale with yoga on the beach. Dive deep in exotic habitats or dip your toes between tides. Remember the great naval battles and quiet acts of courage that helped preserve our freedom. Celebrate the maritime traditions that built our ocean-bound nation. Experience the indigenous cultures whose roots are ancient and whose ways thrive in the modern world.
Sanctuary + community = a thriving ocean for ourselves, and our children, and theirs. In the coming months, we will be embarking on new efforts to engage and celebrate our sanctuary gateway communities. It is these towns, big and small, rural and urban, small-town charming and big-city funky, that are at the heart of what we do: protecting American seas -- past, present and future.
Elizabeth Moore is a senior policy advisor at the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.