Get Into Your Sanctuary

by Elizabeth Weinberg

Are you visiting one of America’s national marine sanctuaries this weekend for Get into Your Sanctuary days? Here are seven tips to make your trip a success without harming any of the amazing creatures that call sanctuaries home.

1. Learn before you go

From snorkeling and diving to whale watching, national marine sanctuaries are a perfect place for adventure. Check the sanctuary’s website before you visit, or pop into the visitor’s center. With a little planning ahead, you can hear about the best places to view wildlife, learn about important regulations like whether and where you can drop anchor, and find out what the day’s diving conditions are like.

mokupapapa discovery center
Visitors centers, like Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument’s Mokupāpapa Discovery Center, can be a perfect place to learn about your sanctuary. (Photo: Andy Collins/NOAA)

2. Take only pictures; leave only bubbles

Did you know that 42 million people visit sanctuaries each year? So while it may seem innocuous to pick up that shell and put it in your pocket, think of the barren deserts our sanctuaries would become if everyone else took a souvenir, too. Plus, you never know if that seemingly-empty shell is some critter’s home!

On the flip side, make sure you’re not leaving anything behind. That includes snacks for the fish – they may seem to like those potato chips, but they’re better off sticking to their normal diet.

photo of diver and coral
A diver snaps a photo of a coral reef in National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa. (Photo: Wendy Cover/NOAA)

3. Keep your hands to yourself

No, really. That seal may look cuddly, but it could turn out to have a nasty bite. For your safety and that of the animals in our protected areas, make sure you’re keeping your distance. And please, please don’t try to ride the animals.

photo of elephant seal on a person
(Image: California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo)

Plus, keeping your hands to yourself helps keep sanctuaries healthy! Fish, as well as corals and many other marine invertebrates, have a slimy coating that helps protect them from infection. You can easily rub off that coating by touching the animal, exposing the animal to illness.

4. Pets and wildlife don’t mix

We understand that you may want to share your experiences 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.

photo of a woman taking a pic of a guy walking his dog on the beach
While it may be tempting to take your dog off-leash, it’s much safer not to. (Photo: Matt McIntosh/NOAA)

5. Be aware of your surroundings

Don’t forget – the sanctuary may seem quiet, but you’re not the only one there!

When operating a boat, lead by example and reduce your speed in areas frequented by marine wildlife. Keep your distance from seabird colonies so you don’t put their eggs at risk; a good rule of thumb is to stay 1,000 feet from cliffs, offshore rocks and islands.

If you’re diving or snorkeling, make sure you know where your fins are so you don’t knock into corals or accidentally kick someone’s dive mask off, and make sure you’re not accidentally disturbing the wildlife around you. You never know when you’re going to happen upon a grumpy eel.

photo of a wolf-eel
A wolf eel in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. (Photo: NOAA)

6. Pick it up!

In Papahānaumokeākea Marine National Monument alone, NOAA staff retrieve more than 50 tons of marine debris each year. A whole lot of trash makes its way into the ocean, where it can harm marine life. Fishing line can entangle animals and prevent them from foraging or surfacing to breathe, and that plastic bag you brought your lunch in does a pretty good impersonation of a jellyfish snack for a sea turtle.

photo of entangled turtle
An entangled sea turtle. (Photo: NOAA PIFSC)

Pack out any trash you bring into the sanctuary, and if you see trash lying on a beach or floating in the water, don’t pass by it – pick it up!

photo of a diver picking up a soda can
(Photo: Greg McFall/NOAA)

7. Speak up!

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.

photo of a wolf-eel
Kayakers in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. (Photo: NOAA)

The National Marine Sanctuary System protects America’s most iconic natural and cultural marine resources. When you #VisitSanctuaries, help us preserve these resources for future generations – and have a whale of a time!

(Image via Tumblr.)