Fiscal Year 2013 Annual Report
Office of National Marine Sanctuaries

NOAA Seeks Public Comments on New Sanctuary Nomination Process

Pink coral at Rose Atoll

Pink coral at Rose Atoll.

In June, the proposed rule to reestablish the sanctuary nomination process was published in the Federal Register. This proposal would replace the currently inactive Sanctuary Evaluation List with a new process for local communities and other interested parties to provide the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries with robust, criteria-driven proposals for new sanctuaries. NOAA requested public input on the proposed process and associated criteria to evaluate potential new national marine sanctuaries in the nation's marine and Great Lakes environments. Nearly 18,000 comments on the proposal were received.

In 1995, the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries deactivated the previous process for nominating national marine sanctuaries. Since that time members of Congress, state officials, tribes, non-governmental organizations, and others have expressed interest in pursuing new national marine sanctuaries. The reestablishment of this process represents a major milestone in NOAA’s ongoing efforts to manage and protect our nation’s most precious underwater places for future generations.

USS Monitor Sailors Laid to Rest in Arlington National Cemetery

Procession accompanies Monitor sailors to burial ground in Arlington National Cemetery

Procession accompanies Monitor sailors to burial ground in Arlington National Cemetery.

The remains of two unknown sailors from the Civil War ironclad USS Monitor, recovered by NOAA and the U.S. Navy in 2002 from the ship's gun turret, were buried with full military honors on March 8 at Arlington National Cemetery. The USS Monitor sank in a New Year's Eve storm just over 150 years ago, carrying 16 crew members to their deaths.

Hundreds gathered at Arlington to watch as horse-drawn caissons carried two, flag-draped caskets from the chapel to the graveside ceremony, which included a military band and a rifle salute. Those present at the historic event—held on the day before the 151st anniversary of the Monitor's famous clash with the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia at the Battle of Hampton Roads—included Acting Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Acting NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan, Ph.D.; Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus; and descendants of the USS Monitor crew members.

NOAA has been a part of the USS Monitor story for decades, from the wreck’s discovery and designation as the first U.S. national marine sanctuary in the 1970s, to the recovery of the turret and two sailors in 2002, and now the interment ceremony. Honoring and preserving the history and legacy of this iconic vessel and her crew is one of the highest callings of this agency’s maritime heritage mission.

Key Reports Explore Trends Across the National Marine Sanctuary System

Cover of the National Condition Report

Cover of the National Condition Report.

The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries released the first National Marine Sanctuary System Condition Report, which combines data from the 13 national marine sanctuaries and Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument to reveal general trends and status of the water quality, habitat, and living and archaeological resources. Numerous concerns for native species are identified in the report including marine debris entanglement, trapping and ingestion, loss of biodiversity, wildlife disturbance, and ship strikes. Several sanctuaries also reported changes in key species and have documented invasions by non-indigenous species. The report explores the effects of tourism on these issues and the associated need for responsible practices.

The National Condition Report describes how sanctuaries are making important strides in resource protection through progressive, science-based management, targeted resource protection programs, and engaging education and outreach activities. Developments in conservation science continue to support management actions that mitigate pressures on sanctuary resources.

An example of successful management actions that have proven to alleviate resource pressures was illustrated in another 2013 report called "An Integrated Biogeographic Assessment of Reef Fish Populations and Fisheries in Dry Tortugas: Effects of No-take Reserves." The report finds that fish populations as well as commercial and recreational anglers have benefited from the "no-take" protections in Tortugas Ecological Reserve, located in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Proposed Expansion for Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank Sanctuaries

Coastal Californian waters, managed by the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries

Coastal Californian waters, managed by the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.

In 2013, NOAA began a public process to review the boundaries for Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries off the coast of northern California. The sanctuaries, established by Congress in the 1980s, together protect nearly 2,000 square miles of ocean near the coast of San Francisco. The proposed expansion area is north of the existing sanctuaries and extends from Bodega Bay in Sonoma County to Alder Creek in Mendocino County. This area encompasses Point Arena, known as North America's most intense "upwelling" site, which is home to diverse species and a productive ecosystem.

NOAA is reviewing public comments to determine if an expansion is beneficial, and if so, will prepare a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) to assess expansion alternatives. Any draft EIS will be subsequently prepared through a public process under the National Environmental Policy Act. Once a draft EIS is completed, it will be opened for public comment again before final action is taken. This process will not result in significant amendments to the regulations for the current sanctuaries.

New Facilities for Sanctuary Visitors

Lahaina Courthouse opening

Opening of the Lahaina Courthouse in Hawaii.

The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries was pleased to complete three major construction projects this year.

In August, a grand reopening of exhibits at the Old Lahaina Courthouse took place in Hawaii. Since 2009, the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, NOS, and the NOAA Pacific Services Center have partnered with the Lahaina Restoration Foundation to design, fabricate, and install interpretive exhibits throughout the Old Lahaina Courthouse to build community awareness, support environmental education, and enhance understanding of local cultures. A variety of exhibits describe Lahaina throughout different periods in history, including pre-contact, monarchy, missionaries, whaling, plantations, and tourism.

In August, Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary (CINMS) celebrated with the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) at the opening of its new Ocean and Science Education Building near Campus Point. The university teamed up with NOAA to construct the 15,000-square-foot, “green” multipurpose building. One half of the building will house the new headquarters for CINMS, which protects approximately 1,470 square miles of marine resources, sea life, and habitats surrounding San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Anacapa, and Santa Barbara islands. The other half of the building will house the Outreach Center for Teaching Ocean Science, a collaborative project between UCSB’s Marine Science Institute and CINMS that will give more than 40,000 students of all ages the opportunity to study marine sciences and ocean conservation each year.

In April, a ceremony was held to celebrate completion of the Channel Islands Boating Center, located in Oxnard, Calif. The new 15,000-square-foot waterfront facility will be operated by California State University Channel Islands in support of their boating and sailing education courses, and will also be open to the general public. Guests will enjoy tours of the center’s wide variety of engaging and interactive exhibits, which were developed by the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. Interactive content and displays will help to convey the importance of our national marine sanctuaries, inspire youth and adult visitors with the adventure of boating at the Channel Islands, and teach safe and environmentally responsible boating practices.