Introducing National Marine Sanctuaries Forever® Stamps

August 2022

By: Justin Packs

In celebration of the National Marine Sanctuary System's 50th anniversary, NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries teamed up with the U.S. Postal Service to showcase our nation's underwater treasures with 16 new Forever® stamps. From the coral reefs of American Samoa to the humpback whales of Stellwagen Bank, these stamps symbolize the amazing seascapes and marine life that we share this world with and our nation's dedication to protect them.

a collage of stamps featuring colorful fish, marine mammals, and seascapes

Diversity and Character

The Forever® stamps depict some of the diverse and iconic wildlife and ecosystems found in national marine sanctuaries. California sea lions, queen angelfish, Atlantic sea nettles, and wooden steamships from WWI all thrive within the waters of national marine sanctuaries. Yet, there is no one image that captures the wonder and awe of sanctuaries any more than another. Celebrating all of the sanctuary system's geographic and biological diversity is not a competition, but a celebration of beauty and unity.

several orange and brown branching corals in shallow water
Photo by Norbert Wu

You can find the same species and shared landscapes across many national marine sanctuaries, so an image can capture the spirit of more than just one place—in fact, each image in the stamp series tells many stories. You can find ice-covered shores in Thunder Bay and Wisconsin Shipwreck Coast national marine sanctuaries, but the histories of the shipwrecks and the personal stories of those who endured their final voyage at sea are their own. Humpback whales, like the breaching whale captured by Elliot Hazen in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, call many sanctuaries home, yet the humpback's significance to Native Hawaiian culture is special to Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.

The thicket of elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, captured by Norbert Wu, are important and endangered reef-building corals that are threatened by climate change and human disturbances in Southwest Atlantic waters. In National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa, however, many Acroporid species have remained resilient, bouncing back despite impacts of warming waters and ocean acidification—giving hope that the corals in the region will remain healthy, and corals in the Atlantic will one day recover due to restoration efforts such as Mission: Iconic Reefs.

Shared similarities between sanctuaries enable partnership and collaboration, but their unique biogeographic features, human and non-human histories, current challenges, and communities are what give sanctuaries their identity and create a system representative of the diversity of our nation. The National Marine Sanctuary System has so much to see and experience for everyone, and these stamps are a glimpse into that world.

Celebrating 50 years

“These stamps are so special because they celebrate an important milestone for the people that have been serving and protecting an evolving National Marine Sanctuary System,” said John Armor, director of NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. “Not only do they capture the beauty of sanctuaries—they represent countless hours of coral reef restoration efforts, climate change monitoring, shipwrecks documented and maritime heritage preserved, and citizen scientists volunteering to clean up marine debris.”

a humpback whale breaching out of the water
Photo by Elliott Hazen/NOAA
red and pink fish swim around coral and rock
Photo by Joseph Hoyt/NOAA

But there is more to celebrate than 50 years of conservation. Recreation and place-based connection are equally core to sanctuaries. Surfers love riding the waves at Second Beach in Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is the perfect place to watch adorable sea otters from a distance or dive into majestic kelp forests. In sanctuaries, we can learn about new species and ecosystems and what it means to connect to the natural world that we are part of. Though these stamps cannot physically transport you through space, they are a way of sharing sanctuary experiences and memories.

“The new Forever® stamps celebrate the majestic seascapes, wildlife, and underwater wonders that our National Marine Sanctuary System offers,” said Kris Sarri, president and CEO of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. “For half a century, our sanctuaries have protected these treasures for all of us to enjoy, explore, and discover. As we mark the 50th anniversary of the sanctuary system, we must recommit to saving these spectacular places and protecting their splendor for generations to come.”

National marine sanctuaries are rooted in community and collaboration. Scientists, volunteers, Indigenous communities, local businesses, environmental educators, and people like you who work in, visit, enjoy, and support sanctuaries all play a significant role in helping these places thrive. The Forever® stamps celebrate these communities and the special ocean and Great Lakes places they are intrinsically tied to.

Sharing Inspiration Across the Nation

Among the photographers behind the stamp series are NOAA staff working behind the scenes, and people who visited and were inspired by the wildlife and seascapes they saw. Daryl Duda has been capturing underwater photographs for 15 years and is the artist behind the stamp featuring the charismatic face of a balloonfish. According to Duda, “We see these balloonfish, and other porcupinefish in our Florida Keys waters frequently. Sometimes the ocean seems a far away and mysterious place, but when we see the human quality in the smile of a little balloonfish or the delightful look of a dolphin, then maybe it seems more familiar and we want to protect what we know and love." Duda is a retired audio/video/film technician who moved to the Florida Keys ten years ago. As a resident of the Florida Keys and scuba diver, Duda feels that “The National Marine Sanctuary System gives us hope to help save our oceans.”

While we work to protect the ecological, cultural, and historical significance of sanctuaries, you are an equally important part of their protection and existence. National marine sanctuaries belong to you, and these stamps bring them closer to home. Even if you cannot visit a national marine sanctuary, you can still appreciate their beauty and significance through your mail! We also hope that they will inspire you or someone you know to visit or return to a national marine sanctuary in person!

a herd of sea lions gather along the shoreline with a bird flying overhead
Photo by Jeff Harris/NOAA
closeup of a fish with large green eyes and several spiky protrusions all over its body
Photo by Daryl Duda

The National Marine Sanctuaries Forever® stamps are available through the U.S. Post Office's online postal store or at post office locations nationwide. Add a piece of our ocean and Great Lakes to your next thank you letter, or birthday card, or bill and celebrate sanctuaries!

Justin Packs is an education and outreach intern at NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and a student at Tufts University.