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Celebrating 50 years of America’s National Marine Sanctuaries

Diver underwater next to large coral on ocean bottom

Coral reef off Swains Island in National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa. Wendy Cover/NOAA

NOAA National Marine Sanctuary System turns 50

Two people with surfboards on shore with sun setting behind large rocks

Surfers at Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. Kate Thompson/NOAA

America’s National Marine Sanctuary System turns 50

We invite everyone to help us "Save Spectacular" as we celebrate, discover, explore, and enjoy the unique wonders of the National Marine Sanctuary System”
— John Armor, Director, NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries
WASHINGTON, DC, USA, October 21, 2022 / -- On October 23, 1972, in response to several environmental disasters, Congress passed the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act which, among other things, established the National Marine Sanctuary System. Three years later, the underwater resting place of the shipwrecked Civil War ironclad USS Monitor became the first national marine sanctuary in the United States. This October, America's National Marine Sanctuary System celebrates its 50th anniversary.

Today, NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries serves as the trustee for a network of ocean parks encompassing more than 620,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters, an area nearly the size of Alaska. The network includes a system of 15 national marine sanctuaries and two marine national monuments that conserve areas with special ecological, cultural, and historical significance.

"In partnership with the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, we invite everyone to help us "Save Spectacular" as we celebrate, discover, explore, and enjoy the unique wonders of the National Marine Sanctuary System," says John Armor, Director of NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. "Together we can ensure these special places are sustained as destinations for adventure, solace, and reflection for the next 50 years and beyond."

Each national marine sanctuary and marine national monument has its own unique history and purpose. These underwater parks were set aside for both protection and enjoyment, now and in the future—and decisions about how to best manage each of these special places continue to be made using the best available scientific data, as well as extensive public input.

The National Marine Sanctuary System supports coastal communities and drives local economies by providing jobs and opportunities for people to discover, recreate, and form lifelong connections with these spectacular places.

Marine sanctuaries connect people and communities through science, education, and stewardship. These networks inspire community-based solutions that help NOAA understand and protect our nation’s most spectacular underwater habitats, wildlife, archaeological wonders, and cultural seascapes.

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the National Marine Sanctuary System, the U.S. Postal Service released a new series of stamps that depicts the abundant wildlife and diverse ecosystems that can be found in the waters of America’s national marine sanctuaries and marine national monuments. A monk seal, a sand tiger shark, a humpback whale and the Farallon Islands are just a few examples of the marine life and marine ecosystems that are featured in the 16 new National Marine Sanctuaries Forever® stamps. A map of the National Marine Sanctuary System is printed on the back of the pane. The stamps include photographs taken by members of the public and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration employees.

A series of commemorative posters highlights each site in the system, and are available for download. Six have been released, and more will be released periodically.

Over the last half-century, and working with partners, NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary System has amassed many great accomplishments that have had lasting impacts. Accomplishments have changed the way people and organizations think about the ocean and how they behave in relation to the ocean. Marine sanctuaries have catalyzed action across a diverse sector of interests and partners. They have generated innovations and made discoveries that benefit communities and our country. Marine sanctuaries have tested and proven new models for marine protected areas and ocean governance, and changed ways of management and protection of maritime heritage and cultural heritage resources.

Sarah Marquis
NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries
+1 949-222-2212
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National Marine Sanctuary System Celebrates 50 Years