National Marine Sanctuary Foundation Celebrates 20 Years!

By Kris Sarri, President & CEO, National Marine Sanctuary Foundation

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. Thank you for your support of this remarkable organization and for our national marine sanctuaries and marine national monuments. The U.S. is a leader in protecting our global ocean because of your commitment.

Over the past 20 years, thanks to you, the National Marine Sanctuary System grew by more than 600,000 square miles to:

  • Preserve historic Great Lakes shipwrecks at Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary;

  • Protect the towering pinnacle corals and ecosystem of Tortugas Ecological Reserve in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary;

  • Safeguard rare species in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, one of the world’s largest marine protected areas;

  • Conserve unique seascapes along the California coast with the expansion of Cordell, Greater Farallones, and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuaries;  

  • Protect the world’s oldest and largest Porite corals, found in the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa; and,

  • Establish the first sanctuary in the Chesapeake Bay watershed at Mallows Bay-Potomac River.

Working with our partners at NOAA, we invested over $90 million in programs that support on-the-water conservation and public education and outreach. These innovative programs include nurturing the next generation of ocean protectors through Ocean Guardian Schools; engaging communities and businesses in underwater marine debris clean-up through Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys; and activating citizen scientists through Sanctuary Ocean Count.

And, the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation is particularly proud to host the annual Capitol Hill Ocean Week. What started as a one-day conference on Capitol Hill, is now the nation’s premier ocean and Great Lakes policy conference. This year, 90 speakers from four continents and more than 2,500 participants from around the world joined together to discuss the value of conserving biodiversity and calling for expanding protection in our ocean, high seas, and freshwater ecosystems.

Looking to the future, we have big plans:

We will engage new audiences and work to increase access and inclusion for all people. Our national marine sanctuaries and marine national monuments belong to all Americans. Our mission is to connect people to their ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes through these treasured places. We cannot achieve that mission unless we invite everyone to join us. And not everyone can join us until we have an inclusive and equitable future for all.

We will work with you to grow the National Marine Sanctuary System. Working with the Lenfest Ocean Program, we launched the Marine Biodiversity Dialogues, an effort funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to assess where, and to what extent, the U.S. is protecting marine biodiversity from the nearshore to the borders of our Exclusive Economic Zone. With this information, we can target the highest priority areas for protection that conserves biodiversity and sustains our ocean for human and species health.

We will invest in species conservation and large-scale ecosystem restoration to sustain a healthy ocean. Alongside NOAA, dedicated partners, communities, and businesses, our work starts with Mission: Iconic Reefs, an unprecedented, decades-long effort to revitalize the region’s highly diverse marine ecosystem by restoring nearly 3 million square feet of the Florida Reef Tract. We intend to expand this effort to California’s kelp forest and the coral reefs of the Pacific Ocean. And, we are launching an effort to conserve our ocean’s whales by evaluating alternative fishing gear that will reduce entanglements and increasing training for first-responders to safely disentangle whales trapped in marine debris.


The health of our ocean and Great Lakes is in our hands. Exciting and critical work lies ahead of us. Together, with your support, we will accomplish so much: save more whales, restore more coral reefs, educate more children, and protect more of our most important resource. Thank you for your support and dedication in our first 20 years! We look forward to the future and creating a brighter future for our ocean and Great Lakes.