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 2010 include:
- Sanctuaries Break Ground on New Visitor Centers in California
ONMS kicked off two major construction projects in 2010 that will greatly enhance the science, education, and public outreach efforts of sanctuary staff in California. The first project, which broke ground January 11, 2010, is a new Ocean Science Education Building on the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) that will house the headquarters offices for Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and a new state-of-the-art Outreach Center for Teaching Ocean Science. The result of a collaboration between the UCSB Marine Science Institute and Channel Islands sanctuary staff, the center will provide interactive educational activities for children in grades K-12, including live aquaria, wet labs, a virtual kelp forest dive, and an immersive theater. The second facility, which broke ground July 12, is the long-awaited Sanctuary Exploration Center in Monterey. As the gateway to NOAA’s Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the Exploration Center will serve the entire central California region and will foster stewardship of the sanctuary by connecting people with and educating them about its ecosystems, water, geology, and diversity of marine life.
- NOAA Releases New Management Plan for Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary
In June 17, Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary achieved a major milestone with the release of its final management plan, which will guide the sanctuary’s resource protection and conservation efforts over the next five years. Based on years of scientific study, and developed with extensive public input, the new management plan focuses on key issues affecting the sanctuary, including ecosystem alteration, wildlife disturbance, vessel traffic, water quality and invasive species. Many of these issues were not well understood or recognized when the original management plan was published in 1993. The plan also addresses sanctuary programs such as maritime heritage preservation, conservation science, enforcement, and public outreach and education. In developing the new management plan, the sanctuary relied on data and expertise from NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, worked in consultation with many local, state, federal, and non-governmental entities, and received more than 45,000 public comments.
- Climate-Smart Sanctuary Initiative Launched
ONMS launched the Climate-Smart Sanctuary Initiative, a new program aimed at predicting and addressing the potential impacts of climate change throughout the National Marine Sanctuary System. The initiative requires each site in the sanctuary system to develop a climate site scenario and a climate action plan, including strategies for management, science, outreach, operations, and other activities. Sites that complete the requirements will receive “climate-smart sanctuary” certification recognizing that they have met the program’s standards. The evaluation and certification process is being piloted in the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary in California and Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary in American Samoa. The process will be initiated at other sites as resources become available.
- NOAA Completes Study of Socioeconomic Effects of Climate Change in the Florida Keys
In August 2010, ONMS staff completed a study of the socioeconomic impacts of climate change on the Florida Keys in collaboration with Australian economist Hans Hoegh-Guldberg, who had done similar analyses for Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and the Pacific Coral Triangle. Funded by NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program, the report outlines the potential socioeconomic effects from four climate change scenarios ranging from global to local and from 10 to 100 years into the future. The researchers covered a broad range of policy and management responses to climate change and the predicted outcomes under each scenario, highlighting the potential consequences of inaction in addressing climate change in one of the most vulnerable communities in the United States. The study will serve as an invaluable resource for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and local communities in planning for or adapting to changes in climate.