NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) serves as the trustee for a network of underwater parks encompassing more than 1.55 million square kilometers (600,000 square miles) of marine and Great Lakes waters. The network includes a system of 14 national marine sanctuaries and Papahānaumokuākea and Rose Atoll marine national monuments.
Over the last year, NOAA initiated the process to potentially designate three new national marine sanctuaries: Papahānaumokuākea, Chumash Heritage, and Hudson Canyon. In 2020, Congress directed NOAA to begin sanctuary designation for marine portions of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. The designation would add the conservation benefits of a national marine sanctuary by providing a stable framework and additional protections that safeguard resources. The designation processes for Chumash Heritage and Hudson Canyon began after robust community engagement, after both sites were submitted to NOAA under the Sanctuary Nomination Process. Initiating designation of these new sanctuary sites is part of the America the Beautiful initiative to address nature loss, climate change, and inequitable access to the outdoors, including by better engaging tribal communities.
Four key pieces of environmental legislation pertaining to our ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes shared a 50th anniversary in 2022: the Coastal Zone Management, National Marine Sanctuaries, Marine Mammal Protection, and Clean Water acts. To celebrate these anniversaries, NOAA, the Marine Mammal Commission, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service launched the 50 Years of Ocean and Coastal Conservation campaign. This yearlong outreach effort shared the legacy of 50 years of stewardship and revitalizes the nation's commitment to marine and coastal conservation.
To celebrate 50 years of ocean and coastal conservation, the U.S. Postal Service and ONMS teamed up to showcase our nation’s underwater treasures with 16 new Forever® stamps. The stamps feature scenes that showcase the diverse and abundant wildlife and ecosystems that can be found throughout the National Marine Sanctuary System. These stunning images were taken by NOAA staff and others from around the nation to share the beauty of these special places. The stamp booklet also features a map of the National Marine Sanctuary System on the back. From towering kelp forests off the Pacific coast and dazzling coral displays in American Samoa to the famed shipwrecks beneath the waters of the Great Lakes, national marine sanctuaries and marine national monuments have protected areas with special ecological, cultural, and historical significance for five decades.
ONMS, with support from the National Centers of Coastal Ocean Science and the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, live streamed an in-depth, multidisciplinary survey of the iconic USS Monitor in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the National Marine Sanctuary System. The Valor in the Atlantic expedition utilized the Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration’s remotely operated vehicles and satellite capability from NOAA Ship Nancy Foster to explore the USS Monitor, as well as natural reefs and the maritime cultural landscape surrounding Monitor National Marine Sanctuary off the North Carolina coast. By making the mission accessible to anyone with an internet connection, NOAA was able to use innovative technology and unique partnerships to increase access to special places in remote areas.
Utilizing lessons learned from more than 40 years of science, management, and community engagement, NOAA’s Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary released a Restoration Blueprint, proposing updates to the boundary, marine zones, regulations, and management activities within the sanctuary. This is the first comprehensive review and update of the sanctuary’s boundary, regulations, and marine zones since 1997. The sanctuary protects the only barrier coral reef in the continental United States, the largest documented contiguous seagrass community in the Northern Hemisphere, and maritime heritage resources that encompass a broad historical period. The Restoration Blueprint proposes to enhance locally led conservation in the Florida Keys as part of a national network of protected areas.