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Celebrating 45 Years of National Marine Sanctuaries

Douglas Croftnopin

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Celebrating 45 Years of National Marine Sanctuaries

Oct 23, 2017.

By Olivia Tarantino, guest author

Today we’re celebrating the 45th anniversary of national marine sanctuaries in the United States! While we’re excited for the future of our marine sanctuaries and everything they have to offer, we want to celebrate this milestone by looking back on some of the greatest moments in the history of national marine sanctuaries.

  • 1972
    On October 23rd, 1972, Marine Sanctuaries were signed into existence with the passing of the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act, which would later become the National Marine Sanctuaries Act. This act ushered in a new era for oceanic protection, and made the sanctuaries we know and love today possible.

    Photo by Matt McIntosh/NOAA

  • 1981
    By the early 80’s, six marine sanctuaries were created in the United States! They were the USS Monitor, Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary, Channel Islands NMS, Point-Reyes Farallon Islands NMS, Gray’s Reef NMS, and Looe Key NMS

  • 1984

  • Congress revises the National Marine Sanctuaries Act to include “historical” and “cultural” significance as valid reasoning for designating an area for sanctuary status. This gave way to sanctuaries like Fagatale Bay National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of American Samoa, which also happened to be the first sanctuary off of the United States mainland in 1986.

  • 1989

    Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary becomes the eighth marine sanctuary in the country, located off the coast of San Francisco. When combined with it’s future site neighbors, these sanctuaries would cover two thirds of the entire West Coast

    Photo by Matt McIntosh/NOAA

  • 1990
    Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is established, and combined with Key Largo and Looe Key National Marine Sanctuaries; Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary protects much of Monroe County in Florida.

  • 1992
    By 1992, the U.S. had created eleven National Marine Sanctuaries, adding Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico (the first sanctuary in Mexico) and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in California.

  • 1994
    NOAA designates Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Washington as the twelfth sanctuary for its diverse marine species, maritime history, and cultural heritage.

    Photo provided by the National Ocean Service Image Gallery

  • 1998
    The United States, under the administration of President Bill Clinton, celebrates the First International Year of the Ocean, urging citizens to take steps to protect our oceans.

  • 1999
    The Sustainable Seas Expeditions begins the first explorative adventure of many in California with the intent of exploring the established marine sanctuaries around the U.S. to find out more about them.

  • 2000
    The first Great Lakes sanctuary, Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, was created. Thunder Bay NMS resides in Lake Huron, and is the thirteenth marine sanctuary to date.

  • 2001
    The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation was established to expand the reach of marine sanctuaries and education of these sites nationwide, while supporting the future of expanding and adding marine sanctuaries. Founding board members included the Honorable Leon Panetta, Jean-Michel Cousteau, and Dr. Sylvia Earle.

    Photo by Tane Casserley/NOAA

  • 2006
    The original Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument became Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument under the Antiquities Act. This became the largest conservation area in the history of the United States.

  • 2009
    The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries presented the first ever Ocean for Life education program, bringing educational marine science activities to schools in the Middle East, showing the importance of marine conservation globally.

  • 2010
    A big year for National Marine Sanctuaries with a NMS sponsored film festival featuring sanctuary themed films. 9,000 people were in attendance of the festival in California. In addition, Former President Bill Clinton publicly congratulates the NOAA on the 10th anniversary of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve.

    Photo by David J. Ruck/NOAA

  • 2012
    NOAA expands Fagatele Bay NMS by adding five more areas to the sanctuary and the name is changed to National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa.

  • 2015
    By 2015, three more marine sanctuaries were expanded by thousands of miles after community members petitioned and worked to have the protected area stretched further. Thunder Bay NMS increased from 448 to 4,300 square miles, Greater Farallones NMS increased from 1,282 to 3,295 square, and Cordell Bank NMS increased from 529 to 1,286 square miles.

  • 2016
    Under President Barack Obama’s administration, Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument was expanded to protect 580,000 square miles of ocean.

  • 2017
    This year , we’ve made new species discoveries in our sanctuaries, helped protect whales from ships and nets, and expanded our public reach by getting people involved in their local sanctuaries.

    Since their beginning, national marine sanctuaries have helped us understand more about our ocean and Great Lakes, connect with the environment and our maritime history, and usher in the next generation of ocean stewards. We are proud of the progress and accomplishments that have been made so far with National Marine Sanctuaries, and look forward to continuing towards a bright blue future.


    Learn more about national marine sanctuaries and their history here.