Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary
ONMS Sentinel Site, West Coast Region

cliffs and trees and water
Cape Flattery. Credit: NOAA

Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (OCNMS) includes 2,408 square nautical miles  of marine waters off the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state. The sanctuary extends 25 to 50 miles seaward, covering much of the continental shelf and several major submarine canyons. The sanctuary overlays a upwelling zone with marine productivity that attracts marine mammals and seabirds. Along its shores are dense kelp beds and rich intertidal communities. Deepwater sea coral and sponge habitats are found where remotely operated vehicles and submarines explore. The sanctuary  has a rich cultural and historical legacy. The communities of the Makah Tribe, Quileute Tribe, Hoh Tribe, and Quinault Nation have inhabited the lands and plied the waters for thousands of years. Over two hundred shipwrecks have been documented. Twenty nine species of marine mammals reside in or migrate through the sanctuary. Almost 90 species of resident and transient marine birds use the sanctuary.

Sanctuary scientists and collaborators study the dynamic, interconnected system of physical, chemical and biological processes of the eastern Pacific Ocean. The technical challenges of research in this underwater environment make research costly, and the open ocean conditions with few navigable ports for vessels add complexity to field operations. OCNMS conducts its research from small boats, large research ships, and aircraft, deploys citizen scientists, and collaborates with multiple partners. To strengthen the scientific basis for conservation and management decisions, we conduct scientific research and monitoring to detect trends, improvements or declines in important local resources, or changes influenced by larger global processes. We conduct seafloor habitat mapping first to identify what habitats exist, then to understand relationships of biological communities with physical habitats. Our oceanography program deploys nearshore scientific moorings to monitor water chemistry and physical processes associated with natural oceanographic events, as well as climate change (e.g., ocean acidification) and hypoxic (low oxygen) events. Interested citizens, graduate students and principal investigators should contact the Research Coordinator to discuss their research ideas prior to launching a project. Research activities with potential to injure resources may require a permit from the sanctuary.