A U.S. National Marine Sanctuary is a federally designated area within United States waters that protects areas of the marine environment with special conservation, recreational, ecological, historical, cultural, archeological, scientific, educational, or aesthetic qualities. The National Marine Sanctuary System consists of 14 marine protected areas that encompass more than 783,000 square miles (2,030,000 km2). Individual areas range from less than 1 to 583,000 square miles (3 to 1,509,963 km2).
The National Marine Sanctuaries Program (NMSP), a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) administers the 13 national marine sanctuaries. The program began after the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill off the coast of California brought the plight of marine ecosystems to national attention. The United States Congress responded in 1972 with the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act which allowed for the creation of marine sanctuaries. The resources protected by U.S. national marine sanctuaries range from coral reef ecosystems in American Samoa, Florida, Hawaii, and Texas, to shipwrecks in the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean. The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, while not a U.S. national marine sanctuary, is also jointly administered by the NMSP, in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the State of Hawaii.
|Office of National Marine Sanctuaries|
|Formed||October 23, 1972|
|Jurisdiction||United States federal government|
|Headquarters||1305 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910|
|Annual budget||$50 million (2016)|
|Parent agency||National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration|
Designation as a National Marine Sanctuary does not automatically prohibit fishing and other activities. Recreational and commercial fishing is allowed in some sanctuaries. It is possible to restrict consumptive or destructive activities through the initial designation process and NMSP actions. There are restrictions in some sanctuaries that are enforced by other governing agencies. For example, current regulations restricting fishing in Stellwagen Bank were not issued by the NMSP, but rather by NOAA Fisheries and the New England Fishery Management Council, which have jurisdiction in federal waters off the New England coast generally. The private non-profit Marine Conservation Institute has compiled fact sheets for each sanctuary listing activities which are directly regulated by the NMSP.