NMSF is the only private organization dedicated solely to supporting the national marine sanctuary system, through education and research initiatives, fundraising, public engagement and advocacy.


NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries serves as trustee for the network of marine protected areas encompassing more than 175,000 square miles of ocean and Great Lakes waters across the United States.


The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation enhances national marine sanctuaries in their goal to protect essential US marine areas and to ensure a healthy ocean.


Our vision for the future is an expanded and strengthened network of national marine sanctuaries for the benefit of current and future generations.

Our Story

It began as a simple idea. America’s most influential ocean conservation leaders wanted to raise awareness of, and increase support for, the national marine sanctuaries and their critical role in ensuring a healthy ocean.

Incorporated as a non-profit on July 31, 2000, the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation got its start with one grant of $250,000 to support the National Marine Sanctuary System. Since then, it has evolved into a dynamic force in ocean stewardship. As the system’s chief national charitable partner, NMSF supports a wide-ranging slate of sanctuary programs and initiatives in science, conservation, education and public outreach.In 2005, it established the Ernest F. Hollings Ocean Awareness Grants, the only public competitive grants program dedicated to increasing awareness for national marine sanctuaries.

Nearly $1.5 million has been awarded to date to scholars, nonprofits, start-ups and others with great ideas.

NMSF’s commitment to the sanctuaries and the importance of a healthy ocean reaches policymakers as well. It is recognized as a strong voice on behalf of the system and ocean, in Washington DC and across the country. And what started in 2001 as a one-day gathering is now Capitol Hill Ocean Week, the nation’s premier annual ocean event, bringing together over 600 global policymakers, scientists, scholars, business and conservation leaders.

As NMSF continues to serve its mission, it is finding new ways to promote the value of the sanctuaries and ocean protection.


It takes work on the ground to help sanctuaries thrive. NMSF coordinates a national network of friends’ groups supporting their local sanctuaries. Expanding those efforts, we have launched local non-profit foundation chapters to create opportunities for communities to connect even more closely with their sanctuaries.

Grays Reef
Launched in 2015, this Savannah-based chapter supports the 22-square-mile “live-bottom” reef and its unique marine habitat. GRNMSF collaborates with local business, residents, media and other organizations for a variety of events and activities. Among its work is sponsorship of the prestigious annual Gray’s Reef Ocean Film Festival.
Launched in 2012, the chapter supports the famous Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, located in the warm, shallow waters surrounding the main Hawaiian Islands and one of the world’s most important whale habitats. Working with local business and communities, HNMSF sponsors a variety of events including reef clean-ups and the popular annual ocean count of humpback whales. CHAPTER WEBSITE