The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) protects and manages 13 sanctuaries and one marine national monument encompassing more than 150,000 square miles of U.S. ocean. Important habitats like breeding and feeding grounds, coral reefs, kelp forests, and historical shipwrecks are represented within the system of sanctuaries. ONMS works with the public and federal, state, and local officials to promote conservation while allowing compatible commercial and recreational activities.
ONMS highlights from fiscal year 2009 include:
- Seeing the expansion of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary to include the Davidson Seamount Management Zone as the result of management plan revision, a seven-year process involving public input and agency collaboration. The Davidson Seamount is a pristine undersea mountain habitat off the coast of Central California, 80 miles to the southwest of Monterey and 75 miles west of San Simeon. At 26 miles long and eight miles wide, it is one of the largest known seamounts in U.S. waters. The seamount is populated with a diversity of deep-sea corals, most of which have other species associated with them. It hosts large coral forests, vast sponge fields, crabs, deep-sea fishes, shrimp, basket stars, and high numbers of rare and unidentified benthic species. The seamount has special national significance relative to ocean conservation, ecological, scientific, educational, aesthetic, and historical qualities. ONMS determined that the Davidson Seamount required protection from the take of or other injury to benthic organisms or those organisms living near the sea floor because of the seamount's special ecological and fragile qualities and potential future threats that could adversely affect these qualities.
- Announcing regulations for protecting California national marine sanctuaries, including Monterey Bay, Cordell Bank, and Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuaries. The revised regulations became effective as of March 9, 2009. The regulatory changes are a component of new management plans released in November of 2008 for the three sanctuaries. The management plans and regulations for each of the three sanctuaries were developed at the same time for greater consistency and share many common elements, but they are not identical. Each sanctuary developed regulations to address the unique needs and circumstances at each site.
- Supporting the Blue Ocean Film Festival. ONMS supported the creation of this new national-level ocean film festival, which was held in June in Savannah, Georgia. The inaugural festival was comprised of both an industry-focused conference and public exhibition of films. The industry conference supported panels, training, and courses on hardware, ocean conservation, and film making. More than 200 films were submitted and 50 finalists were selected. Nearly 300 filmmakers registered for the conference and more than 4,000 attended the screenings over three days.
- Supporting the 2009 Ocean For Life Program, which gathers high school students from Western and Middle Eastern nations to promote cultural understanding through ocean science. In 2009, 60 students from United States, Canada, France, Norway, Denmark, Armenia, Australia, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, and Jordan participated in field studies and activities in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and California’s Cordell Bank, Gulf of the Farallones, and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuaries. The goal of Ocean For Life is to bring better understanding of the diverse marine world and of the diverse peoples of the world.
- Working closely with a consortium of agencies, including the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the State of Hawaii, and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to develop a nomination package for the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument to the UNESCO World Heritage List. Former President George Bush announced the nomination prior to leaving office. The nomination, which consists of a full-color, bound 300-page book as well as several thousand pages of supporting materials, was sent to UNESCO's World Heritage Centre. UNESCO, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and the International Council on Monuments and Sites will review Papahānaumokuākea's application, and in July 2010, the World Heritage Committee will vote on its inscription to the World Heritage List.
- Co-hosting, with the National Marine Fisheries Service, a national summit to strengthen ocean conservation efforts. NOAA Fisheries and ONMS serve as co-trustees for many of the nation’s coastal and ocean natural and heritage resources. As part of an ongoing effort to strengthen alliances that best combine authorities and expertise, this national summit brought together staff to further collaborations toward ocean conservation and sustainable communities. Participants, including scientists, managers, educators, and communicators from national and regional offices, discussed and developed strategies that address some of the nation’s most pressing environmental issues, such as climate change, ocean acidification, the protection of sensitive resources, economic sustainability of communities, and public engagement.
- Hosting NOAA Heritage Week. The 2009 celebration of science, service, and stewardship by NOAA and its predecessors took employees and the public “Beyond the Horizon,” with award-winning films, special presentations, and dynamic guest speakers highlighting not only how NOAA monitors and predicts changes in the Earth’s environment and conserves and manages ocean and coastal resources, but also what the future may hold. Heritage Week is part of Preserve America, a White House initiative that encourages and supports community efforts to preserve and enjoy our cultural and natural heritage. The goals of the initiative include a greater shared knowledge about the nation’s past, strengthened regional identities and local pride, increased local participation in preserving the country’s cultural and natural heritage assets, and support for the economic vitality of our communities.
- Hosting the First Conference on Marine Mammal Protected Areas in Hawaii. The conference was attended by over 200 managers, scientists, and educators from approximately 40 countries. For the first time, this venue gave attendees an opportunity to learn from each other and discuss the many similar challenges and successes that come along with understanding and managing highly mobile marine mammals with an area-based approach. All immediate feedback suggested that this gathering was long overdue, as there had not previously been a venue to address these issues. Australia and the U.S. and several nongovernmental organizations used the venue to make announcements about major discoveries and initiatives, including the discovery of a previously unknown population of Irawaddy river dolphin in Bangladesh and a massive, international collaborative research project in the Southern Hemisphere. Representatives from the Government of France made a strong commitment to host the second conference in 2012.