Legislation Update: An update on NOAA’s Marine Sanctuary Program

Like NAMEPA, the mission of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s ( NOAA’s) Marine Sanctuary Program (Program) isto protect our precious ocean. The Program also protects historic shipwrecks and sunken historic aircraft. Sanctuaries can be designated by law or administratively by NOAA. The public can also recommend sites for designation as marine sanctuaries.      

Following is a recap of the Program and recent developments.     

The Program began in 1972. The first one was created in order to protect the historical landmark of the sunken “USS Monitor”, 16 miles off the coastline of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. The rotating turret of the MONITOR was removed and placed in The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, VA. Now, this sanctuary is used to monitor the shipwreck’s effect on water quality, and the surrounding marine environment.   

In many ways,  marine sanctuaries have followed this trend of allowing for multiple uses of the sanctuary to occur despite its title as a sanctuary. Sanctuaries can also provide a safe place for endangered species, protect fisheries, and provide a safe environment for education. Each sanctuary has its own set of regulations, some of which have a permit system for human activity such as fishing and recreational water sports.  

In total, the United States has 15 National Marine Sanctuaries, and all of them act as underwater national parks, altogether covering over 620,000 square miles of ocean waters. A map of these is presented below:   

Each one is slightly different and comprised of unique regulations. The restrictions that NOAA  recognizes as universal for National Marine Sanctuaries are as follows:   

  1. Discharging material or other matter into the sanctuary;   
  1. Disturbance of, construction on or alteration of the seabed;   
  1. Disturbance of cultural resources; and   
  1. Exploring for, developing or producing oil, gas or minerals (with a grandfather clause for preexisting operations).    

Among these 15 Marine parks, there is one proposal pending. Right now, NOAA is proposing to designate up to 1,786 square miles of Lake Ontario as a marine sanctuary. This area serves as a bridge between the Great Lakes and the ocean. This drafted reserve would also protect 64 known shipwrecks and one aircraft, underscoring the historical significance of the region. Meetings on this proposal will be online from August 18 – 26 2021, which you can register for here. Just last month NOAA designated a 962-square mile area of Wisconsin’s Lake Michigan as a national marine sanctuary. With important habitats and archeological significance, this is also an area worth protecting.   

Marine sanctuaries create a safe relationship between the healthy ecosystems below the surface and the essential form of transportation above. Almost all marine sanctuaries allow vessels to transit through the park, but prohibit anchoring in sanctuaries unless there is a designated anchoring area to do so. Marine planning for sanctuaries also monitors the safest routes from ports out to sea for both the vessel and the environment.  

This model of marine conservation is used all around the world. Some of which are very similar to the U.S.’s program. The U.S’s largest marine sanctuary, the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, is third in size after Ross Sea Region Marine Protected Area in Antarctica, and Marae Moana of the Cook Islands.   

NOAA’s Marine Sanctuary Program is a growing method in saving our seas. NAMEPA is alongside them in this mission, continuing to promote best practices in and out of marine sanctuaries. Join our mission at https://namepa.net/events/   

Scroll to Top