I’m ready to get to work for our sanctuaries: A message from our President and CEO

The four hottest days on record occurred this July, just one week before my start as the new president and CEO of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. I arrive at a time when our sanctuaries are under tremendous threat from climate change and human-induced activity.   

When I was announced as the Foundation’s next president and CEO at the 2023 Ocean Awards Gala, I talked about national marine sanctuaries as sources of hope and places for action, and the power of voices – your voices – to bring us together around a common cause.  And hope and action are what we urgently need right now in our ocean and Great Lakes. The challenges facing our waters are great, and they are many. They stem from the three great crises of our time: a changing climate, the extinction threat posed by the loss of biodiversity, and systemic inequities.  

With your help, the Foundation continues to address major crises affecting our waters:  

  • A high-impact partnership to remove large marine debris in sanctuaries that have been plaguing wildlife, vulnerable habitats, and our communities, in some cases, for decades  
  • The groundbreaking Ocean Odyssey grant program that is creating opportunities for youth from communities historically marginalized to break into ocean science and exploration  
  • Contributing our support and perspective to the Administration’s Ocean Justice Strategy to ensure that everyone, regardless of race, background, socioeconomic status, or zip code should have equitable access to the benefits the ocean provides   

The persistent record marine heatwave in the Southeast has elevated water temperatures around the Florida Keys to unheard of levels. It’s emblematic of what we are facing. A more intense hurricane season will threaten the cultural treasures and history beneath Florida’s waters. Coral reefs in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, already under stress, will see more and more coral bleaching and die-offs. These once-vibrant coral reefs provide vital habitat for marine life and are an economic engine offering recreational opportunities and buffering coastal communities. 

Coral conservation efforts and restoration responses are more important now than ever before. That’s why we are recommitting to raising the visibility and support for Mission: Iconic Reefs, our partnership to restore the coral habitat that so many species, visitors, and the people of Florida rely on. Alongside our partners, we’re working to proactively address coral bleaching through long-term monitoring, breeding coral species more resilient to heat stress, and caring for corals in a lab before outplanting them to help reef recovery. We are committed to using our voices and telling our stories to restore hope and drive action. And I hope you will commit to working with us to protect, enhance, and grow our sanctuaries – those most special places in our waters. 

Please stay tuned for opportunities to share your stories directly with me in community roundtables as I get into our sanctuaries in the coming months.  I look forward to collaborating with you.  

Let’s get to work.


In solidarity,   

Joel R. Johnson, President and CEO 

National Marine Sanctuary Foundation  


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