Maui News

National Marine Sanctuary System celebrating 50 years protecting the underwater world

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Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary protects humpbacks and their habitat. Photo Credit: Ed Lyman/NOAA

On Oct. 23, 1972, in response to several environmental disasters, the US Congress passed the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act, which included establishing 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. 

Today, the National Marine Sanctuary System is celebrating 50 years. It has grown to encompass 15 national marine sanctuaries and two marine national monuments, including the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary and Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is part of the National Marine Sanctuary System. Photo: Randall Kosaki/NOAA

Both the protected areas in the Hawaiian Islands feature special ecological, cultural and historical significance.

Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary works to protect humpback whales and their habitat through research, education, conservation and stewardship. The sanctuary, created in 1992, is administered by a partnership of NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and the State of Hawai‘i through its Division of Aquatic Resources. 

Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument and World Heritage Site was created in June 2006. It is one of the largest marine conservation areas in the world and the largest in the United States, encompassing 582,578 square miles of the Pacific Ocean. It is administered jointly by the US Department of Commerce, US Department of the Interior, the State of Hawai’i and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.


Today, the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries — part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — 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 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.

Sanctuaries and monuments connect people and communities through science, education and stewardship. We rely on these networks to inspire community-based solutions that help us understand and protect our nation’s most spectacular underwater habitats, wildlife, archaeological wonders and cultural seascapes.


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