The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries serves as the trustee for a network of underwater parks encompassing more than 620,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters from Washington state to the Florida Keys, and from Lake Huron to American Samoa. The network includes a system of 15 national marine sanctuaries and Papahānaumokuākea and Rose Atoll marine national monuments.
After robust community engagement, ONMS has proposed to designate a national marine sanctuary in ocean waters of central California as the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary. The area’s nationally significant natural, historical, archaeological, and cultural resources will benefit from comprehensive community- and ecosystem-based management. In proposing this designation, ONMS recognizes and celebrates Indigenous Peoples’ modern-day and historical cultural connections to the place, and plans to actively involve Tribes and Indigenous communities in collaborative management, inclusive of their values, knowledge, and traditions. The sanctuary designation also would conserve the area’s rich biodiversity and create opportunities for research and economic development, including recreation and tourism.
Following a directive from President Biden, ONMS has launched the designation process for a proposed national marine sanctuary in the Pacific Remote Islands area. In April 2023, ONMS issued a Notice of Intent to Conduct Scoping and to Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for the Proposed Designation of a National Marine Sanctuary for the Pacific Remote Islands. Sanctuary designation would allow NOAA to augment the existing protections for the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument with additional regulatory and nonregulatory tools and to conserve additional areas outside the monument’s existing boundary. The proposed sanctuary would honor the ancestral, historical, and cultural connections to the Pacific Remote Islands and the surrounding open-ocean waters and recognize the importance of Indigenous knowledge, language, stories, and cultural connections between lands, waters, and peoples, and celebrate distinct cultures.
Over the past year, ONMS has helped direct funding under the Inflation Reduction Act, a historic investment to tackle climate change. NOAA is investing $50 million of these funds in ONMS facilities projects, including at Monterey Bay, Stellwagen Bank, Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale, Greater Farallones, Mallows Bay, and Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuaries. Some of these funds will be invested in existing infrastructure to ensure facilities are resilient to climate impacts, and some will be invested in new bricks-and-mortar projects to bring national marine sanctuary messaging and programs into new communities or continue our presence in sanctuary communities where we already have strong partnerships and connections.
When South Florida experienced the warmest water temperatures recorded since 1981, including a 101-degree Fahrenheit reading at a hydrological monitoring station in Florida Bay, replicates of all-known living elkhorn and staghorn coral fragments in NOAA’s Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary were collected and transferred to two land-based living genebanks for safekeeping. NOAA’s Mission: Iconic Reefs managers organized the effort after water temperatures spiked suddenly, which resulted in bleaching, disease, and death of the corals. An estimated 150 unique individuals of elkhorn and 300 individuals of staghorn corals remain alive on Florida’s Coral Reef, less than one percent of their former abundance. Rescued corals are being considered as potential broodstock for propagation in the event of a large-scale mortality event. This forward-looking approach aims to ensure the preservation of coral diversity and resilience for the future.
ONMS has released the Marine Protected Area Climate Vulnerability Assessment Guide, which provides comprehensive recommendations on conducting climate-vulnerability assessments tailored to the unique challenges of place-based management. This guide is based on nearly a decade of experience conducting climate vulnerability assessments within national marine sanctuaries. It is a valuable tool for marine protected area (MPA) managers developing targeted and effective management strategies to address the effects of climate change. These products can serve as models for other MPA programs to further advance the climate-informed management of marine resources. These resources are a new way to support the work of national marine sanctuaries engaged in a wide variety of climate adaptation actions that both help the nation’s critical marine resources and special ocean places thrive in a changing ocean and support adaptation throughout their communities.
This year, NOAA announced the selection of 20 members to serve on the inaugural Marine and Coastal Area-based Management Advisory Committee that will advise agency leadership on science-based approaches to area-based protection, conservation, restoration, and management of coastal, Great Lakes, and marine places. This is the only federal advisory committee that has the scope to address all types of area-based management. The membership of the committee represents diverse perspectives, including resource management; commercial and recreational fishing; ocean industry; recreation and tourism; tribes and Indigenous communities; conservation, philanthropic, environmental justice, and other nongovernmental organizations; and youth-serving and educational organizations. The committee will also advise NOAA on implementation of the America the Beautiful initiative, which aims to conserve and restore the nation’s public lands and waters.