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What is place-based conservation?

place-based conservation graphic

Think Globally, Act Locally

Conserving special places in our coastal and marine environment is a great way to balance the often competing and occasionally conflicting demands of coastal resource use, economic development, and conservation. Programs such as NOAA's National Marine Sanctuaries and the National Estuarine Research Reserve System enable communities to come together to study, discuss, and find solutions to a broad range of pressing problems in specific regions around the nation. These special places are focal points that encourage partnerships in science, education, technology, management, and community.

The Big Picture

"Place-based conservation" means focusing on conservation methods and issues as they pertain to a specific place or region. These types of programs are designed, targeted, and conducted at geographies that have a special quality, are of some special significance, or representative of a range of characteristics and or places. Being "place-based" means that programs are developed by communities for communities' benefits. Although NOS's place-based programs are national in scope and leverage national assets and attention, they are implemented by staff and partners in the places where people live: from Maine to American Samoa. Place-based programs value the experiences of local and indigenous populations and help provide services that combine their traditional knowledge with modern technologies and techniques.

Conserving Special Places

Our place-based conservation approach focuses on important coastal and marine areas. In addition to our Coastal Zone Management Program and Coral Reef Conservation Program, we also manage these programs:

  • National Marine Sanctuary System: Created in 1972 with the passage of the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, the system is now comprised of 14 major sites across the nation. These sites contain over 170,000 square miles — more U.S. real estate than all National Parks combined. One of the most important characteristics of this system is the Sanctuary Advisory Council that ensures community input to ongoing management programs. Across the system, over 500 active citizens and 400 partners provide input to these councils.
  • National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS): A network of 28 research reserves covering roughly 1.3 million acres that are "special estuarine places" selected to represent the diverse biological and geographic areas of the nation. Established through the amended Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972, this system is a partnership program between NOAA and coastal states. A key focus of the system is on the critical habitats, such as wetlands, that are vital habitats for spawning and nurseries of at least two thirds of the commercial fish and shellfish in the United States.
  • National Marine Protected Area (MPA) System: Comprised of 437 member sites representing 12 coastal states, the National MPA System is a voluntary partnership among the nation's MPA programs to more effectively conserve marine resources. The goal is to build a science-based, comprehensive national system that can begin to provide community developed solutions relevant to both local and national problems.
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Did you know?

All Americans may nominate nationally significant marine and Great Lakes areas as potential new national marine sanctuaries. This nomination process, established in 2014, will result in an inventory of areas for NOAA to consider for national marine sanctuary designation. Learn More.