NOAA designated an 18-square mile stretch of Maryland’s Potomac River as a national marine sanctuary. Mallows Bay - Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary, the first national marine sanctuary designated since 2000, will protect the remains of more than 100 World War 1-era wooden steamships, known as the “Ghost Fleet.” The culturally rich landscape also includes sites that represent the history of Native American communities in the area, the once-booming Potomac River fishing industry, and the Civil War. The state of Maryland nominated the area for sanctuary designation in 2014 to protect and conserve the shipwrecks and cultural heritage resources, to foster education and research partnerships, and to increase opportunities for public access, tourism, and economic development. NOAA, the state of Maryland, and Charles County will manage the national marine sanctuary jointly. NOAA’s sanctuary management actions will primarily focus on protecting the Ghost Fleet and related maritime heritage resources. The sanctuary designation took effect on September 3, 2019, following 45 days of continuous congressional session.
NOAA announced its consideration of a new national marine sanctuary in eastern Lake Ontario to protect, research, interpret, and improve public access to its natural and historical resources. The area being considered for designation, adjacent to Oswego, Jefferson, Cayuga, and Wayne counties in upstate New York, would protect 21 known shipwrecks and one military aircraft representing events spanning more than 200 years of our nation's history. An additional 47 shipwrecks and two aircraft are likely located within the proposed sanctuary boundaries, based on historical records. The proposed sanctuary includes a separate area surrounding the HMS Ontario, which is both the oldest confirmed shipwreck (1780) and the only fully intact British warship discovered in the Great Lakes. The designation process includes a period of public comment to assess interest in the sanctuary’s goals and boundaries. NOAA also established a sanctuary advisory council for the proposed sanctuary to bring members of the local community together to provide advice to NOAA, to serve as a liaison with the nominating community, and to assist in guiding the site through the designation process.
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary protects the only coral barrier reef in the continental United States, a marine ecosystem that annually attracts nearly five million visitors who contribute to the $4.7 billion economy through marine-related activities. However, the Florida Keys marine ecosystem is increasingly under threat from hurricanes, coral disease, boat groundings, rising ocean temperatures, pollution, and human interaction. ONMS released a draft proposal recommending potential changes to existing boundaries, regulations, and marine zones in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary to better address the long-term declines to the region’s marine resources, as well as ongoing and emerging threats due to changing ocean conditions. The draft environmental impact statement, known as Restoration Blueprint, takes into account more than 20 years of science, management achievements, technical experience, and local community involvement. The proposal also recognizes that new or expanded protection strategies may be necessary to restore habitats degraded from events such as Hurricane Irma, coral bleaching, and coral disease. This review is a public process which will culminate in an updated management plan and potential modifications to regulations, marine zones, and the sanctuary’s boundaries.
Last year, ONMS competitively awarded $3.5 million for deep-water exploration and research in national marine sanctuaries to three organizations: Ocean Exploration Trust, Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Through the use of remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and other marine technology resources, each mission provided connections to live dives, research, and exploration over the internet. Telepresence technology enables NOAA to communicate the importance of resources found within our national marine sanctuaries, and allows us to advance our mission by reaching new and diverse audiences. Sanctuaries Live emphasizes education and outreach to engage and inspire the next generation of innovators, explorers, and scientists. This year, ONMS facilitated educational programs and live, ship-to-shore interactions with over 5,000 youth and adults in classrooms, community centers, museums, zoos, and aquariums. Facebook Live events and ONMS webpage streams further extended ONMS’s impact, reaching nearly 56,000 viewers throughout the expeditions. Additional live broadcasts could be found on partner webpages, allowing anyone with an internet connection to tune in.
In a set of recommendations to the Department of Commerce and the U.S. Department of the Interior, NOAA’s Marine Protected Areas Federal Advisory Committee documented substantial economic, ecological, and cultural benefits provided to the nation by U.S. Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). The committee’s report also listed several emerging challenges to those MPAs arising from expanding human uses, climate change impacts, and evolving ocean policies. The committee suggested several balanced and practical actions to meet those challenges and to sustain valued MPA benefits for this and future generations of Americans. In addition, the committee, working with external experts, created an online toolkit featuring best practices and decision-support tools for MPA managers to better understand and steward the cultural resources and heritage values protected by their sites.