National Marine Sanctuaries

Marine Conservation Institute works to support and improve the National Marine Sanctuary Program’s effectiveness. The National Marine Sanctuary Program oversees 14 marine protected areas that encompass more than 150,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters in the United States. We envision a Sanctuary program with strong conservation objectives and effective management. In order to achieve these goals we are actively engaged in designation of new and expanded sanctuaries whenever the opportunity allows and in securing sufficient resources to provide effective management for the sanctuaries.


Marine Conservation Institute has been involved in several sanctuary expansion campaigns, some of which have been great successes. We advocated for the expansion, really doubling in size, of the Gulf of Farallones and Cordell Banks National Marine Sanctuaries off the coast of northern California and applauded NOAA’s decision to expand these areas in 2014. We have advocated to expand the size and management scope of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. We are currently working to expand the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico and supporting the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument expansion proposal. We also supported and worked on expansion of the Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary in American Samoa.

What is a Sanctuary?

While some people who hear the word “sanctuary” think that these areas are fully protected from all extractive uses, the reality is quite different. Sanctuaries are managed by the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries [link to] for multiple uses provided the uses are deemed compatible with resource protection by the Secretary of Commerce. The National Marine Sanctuary Act does not prohibit any type of use, but leaves it up to the Secretary to determine through a public process which activities will be allowed and what regulations will apply to various uses. Under this process a secretary may allow extractive uses, such as bottom trawl fishing.

In order to facilitate understanding of what is or isn’t protected in a sanctuary near you, Marine Conservation Institute has prepared fact sheets on each of the 14 sanctuaries, with information on when they were designated, how large they are, what research is conducted, what endangered and threatened species are present, and what activities are allowed. These are not meant to be comprehensive lists used to determine whether you can go fishing, for example, in a sanctuary, but to give the reader a sense of the completeness, or incompleteness, of the protections provided by individual sanctuaries.

Fact sheets [PDF]: