In 1972, in response to a growing awareness of the intrinsic environmental and cultural value of our
coastal waters, Congress passed the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act. The Act authorizes
the Secretary of Commerce to designate discrete areas as national marine sanctuaries to promote
comprehensive management of their special conservation, recreation, ecological, historical, research,
educational, or aesthetic resources.
The National Marine Sanctuary System consists of 14 marine protected areas that encompass more than
150,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters from Washington State to the Florida Keys, and
from Lake Huron to American Samoa. The system includes 13 national marine sanctuaries and the
Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument.
Our national marine sanctuaries embrace part of our collective riches as a nation and can provide a safe
habitat for species close to extinction or protect historically significant shipwrecks. Ranging in size
from less than one square mile to 137,792 square miles, each sanctuary site is a unique place needing