For 40 years, America’s national marine sanctuaries have worked to protect sites ranging from a Civil War shipwreck to coral reefs and tiny atolls. NOAA has announced that beginning this week the American public can now nominate nationally significant marine and Great Lakes areas as potential new national marine sanctuaries.
The announcement was made by John Podesta, counselor to President Obama, during Capitol Hill Ocean Week. The community-based nomination process responds to numerous requests for new sanctuaries from interested communities and stakeholders around the country.
Diver explores schooner F.T. Barney in Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. (Credit: NOAA)
“Our national marine sanctuaries not only protect special places in America’s oceans and Great Lakes, but they promote responsible and sustainable ocean uses to protect the health of our oceans for future generations,” said Kathryn D. Sullivan, Ph.D, NOAA administrator and under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere. “This new process increases the public’s involvement in the stewardship of our oceans, which is central to NOAA’s overall mission. We look forward to hearing from the public about places in the marine and Great Lakes environment they feel deserve special status and protection as national marine sanctuaries.”
The National Marine Sanctuaries Act directs NOAA to identify, designate, and protect marine areas of special national significance. The public’s involvement in nominating new sanctuaries will help NOAA in this mission and support the administration’s goals of ensuring healthy coastal communities and economies.
This announcement will not result in the automatic designation of any new national marine sanctuaries. However, the nomination process will result in an inventory of areas NOAA will consider for national marine sanctuary designation, taking into account input and support from various local, regional and national interests and organizations. Consideration also will be based on a proposed area’s national significance and the feasibility of managing it.
NOAA may designate new sanctuaries and implement their associated regulations only after a nominated site has gone through a separate, highly public process that typically takes several years to complete. More specific details about the nomination process are available online.
In 1995, NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries deactivated the previous process for nominating new sanctuaries. Since that time members of Congress, state officials, tribal governments, non-governmental organizations and others have expressed interest in pursuing new national marine sanctuaries, recognizing their ability to protect treasured places and enhance local economies. NOAA received tremendous amounts of feedback from the general public on this new proposal (nearly 18,000 comments – the majority of which favored the move).
NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries serves as trustee for a system of 14 marine protected areas, encompassing more than 170,000 square miles of America’s ocean and Great Lakes waters. Through active research, management, and public engagement, national marine sanctuaries sustain healthy environments that are the foundation for thriving communities and stable economies.