For 40 years, the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Sanctuary system has preserved some of the most treasured and endangered resources in our oceans. This underwater network of national parks, first established in 1972 – exactly 100 years after America’s first national park was created, protects more than 18,000 square miles of ocean waters and habitats!
Visit the National Marine Sanctuaries all in one place!
Our Washington, DC venue highlights all thirteen sanctuaries as well as marine national monument as part of a partnership with NOAA to help spread awareness and inspire conservation of these amazing ecosystems. You can explore the following sanctuaries during your visit:
- Florida Keys NMS – This sanctuary is a complex marine ecosystem surrounding the Florida Keys archipelago, an island chain known worldwide for its extensive offshore coral reef. The waters surrounding most of the 1,700 islands that make up the Florida Keys have been designated a sanctuary since 1990. The Florida Keys marine environment is the foundation for the commercial fishing and tourism-based economies that are vital to southern Florida.
- USS Monitor NMS – located off the coast of Newport News, Virginia, this wreck of a Civil War-era ship was the first designated marine sanctuary!
- Flower Garden Banks NMS – Flower Garden is located about 110 miles off the coast of Texas and Louisiana. It harbors the northernmost coral reefs in the continental United States and serves as a regional reservoir of shallow-water Caribbean reef fishes and invertebrates.
- Gray’s Reef NMS – Gray’s Reef is located 17 miles off Sapelo Island, Georgia. It is one of the largest near-shore sandstone reefs in the southeastern United States. The rocky platform, some 60–70 feet below the Atlantic Ocean’s surface, is wreathed in a carpet of attached organisms. This flourishing ecosystem provides not only vertical relief, but also a solid base for the abundant invertebrates to attach to and grow upon.
- Cordell Bank NMS – Cordell Bank is located approximately 52 miles northwest of the Golden Gate Bridge at the edge of the continental shelf. Upwelling of nutrient-rich ocean waters and the bank’s topography create one of the most biologically productive areas on the West Coast. The site is a lush feeding ground for many marine mammals and seabirds.
- Olympic Coast NMS – along the Olympic Peninsula coastline of the Pacific Northwest, sits this protected continental shelf and several submarine canyons. This upwell zone is a home to marine mammals such as orcas and seabirds. Throughout the sanctuary, kelp keeps pockets of tidal communities teeming with fish. In addition to these ecological resources, this area also preserves over 200 shipwrecks.
- Hawaiian Island Humpback Whale NMS – In the shallow waters surrounding the main Hawaiian Islands, this sanctuary represents one of the world’s most important humpback whale habitats.
- Stellwagen Bank NMS – located at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay, this sanctuary was the first in New England. It was first designated to protect endangered whales from the shifting of shipping lanes in busy commercial waters. Since its establishment, striking of these whales has been reduced by 81 percent, according to NOAA.
- Fagatele Bay NMS – Fagatele is located on Tutuila, the largest island of American Samoa, and is the only true tropical coral reef in the National Marine Sanctuary Program. This complex ecosystem, with its exceptionally high level of biological productivity, is the smallest and most remote of all sanctuaries.
- Gulf of the Farallones NMS – near San Francisco, this sanctuary was critical to the creation of Beach Watch, one of the first citizen-science monitoring projects within NOAA. This volunteer program helps to protect a lush cold water coral reef, abundant with many threatened and endangered species.
- Monterey Bay NMS – this rocky, rugged area off the coast of Southern California acts as a home or migration corridor for 26 species of marine mammals, close to 100 species of seabirds, close to 400 species of fish and invertebrates and four species of sea turtles. A mixture of habitats including open ocean, rocky shores, sandy beaches and lush kelp forests.
- Channel Islands NMS – The Channel Islands are located 25 miles off the coast of Santa Barbara, California. The waters that swirl around the five islands within the sanctuary combine warm and cool currents to create an exceptional breeding ground for many species of plants and animals.
- Thunder Bay NMS – off the eastern coast of Michigan, this sanctuary protects a collection of shipwrecks in Lake Huron. Not only are these developed ecosystems an important research tool, but this area has become a major tourist destination and economic stimulant in the area – further spreading awareness of how important it is to protect marine wildlife.
- Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument – located in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, this is the single largest conservation area in the US and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The monument encompasses close to 140,000 square miles of Pacific Ocean – an area larger than all the country’s national parks combined.
We are so happy to share these small glimpses into such a diverse and beautiful network of environments. Thanks to NOAA and the National Marine Sanctuaries Act for allowing us to continue to enjoy and protect America’s underwater treasures for many years to come!