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Honoring Our Culture and Heritage

David J. Ruck/NOAA

The sea shaped our Nation. Sanctuaries honor and safeguard these sacred places.

The ocean and Great Lakes play a central role in the shaping of our history, growth of our economy, and are vital threads in the fabric of our national identity. National marine sanctuaries tell the story of how our Nation was created, from sea to shining sea. This country was built by people that crossed the ocean, relied on the sea to expand our boundaries, and depend on healthy and thriving ocean and Great Lakes for security and survival. In fact, Congress created the first marine sanctuary to protect the wreckage of the famed Civil War ironclad USS Monitor.  

America’s greatest maritime museum lies on the seafloor, where traces of past cultures lie side by side with the remains of centuries of seafaring and cultural connections to the water. Sanctuaries safeguard the final resting grounds of historic wrecks, prehistoric archaeological sites and other cultural artifacts. They honor and celebrate the history, contributions and sacrifices of our ancestors.  And, they enable Americans to connect and learn from our shared maritime past as we look for future opportunities.

The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and sanctuaries works diligently to connect people to these underwater places that define the American ocean, empowering citizens to protect and care for these national treasures. 

Monitor Expedition 2002
Image courtesy of Monitor Expedition 2002
Wisconsin Historical Society
Friends of Thunder Bay
Mariner's Museum


Unlocking Our Past from Sea to Shining Sea

National marine sanctuaries are centers for exploration, discovery, and testing advanced technologies. Scientists and explorers are uncovering new clues and information to the past using science, history, cutting-edge tools to uncover previously unidentified historic shipwrecks and submerged cultural sites.

Advanced technologies are powering a new age in exploration and discovery. Cutting edge tools like remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) armed with side scan sonar, high definition cameras for high resolution video and photo are enabling researchers to explore, survey, map and study marine environments for longer periods of time and in greater detail than previously possible. The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation partners with private sector companies, non-governmental organizations, and universities to unlock the mysteries within national marine sanctuaries and explore how the latest technologies can hold the key to future discoveries.

Sanctuaries honor and celebrate our Nation’s diverse past by connecting, engaging, and empowering people to learn about their history and their community through the power of place. When the remains of two unknown sailors were exhumed from the recovered USS Monitor turret, Monitor sanctuary staff, the Navy, the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, and other partners utilized 3D facial reconstruction technology to identify the sailors, track down the descendents of these and other Monitor soldiers, and arrange a proper military burial at Arlington National Cemetery to pay respect to the sailors, commemorate their service to their country,  and acknowledge their role in American history.


Discovering the Keys to Our Future

Recognizing these places from their national significance provides additional benefits to local communities.  National marine sanctuaries promote economic growth, foster civic pride, and improve people’s quality of life by enhancing tourism, recreation and public access; creating new business ventures and jobs; and supporting education, outreach and community stewardship.

Maritime heritage festivals, trails, and museums provide opportunities to explore and appreciate our history as a maritime nation and the importance of thousands of years of exploration, immigration, commerce, harvest and use, and much more. Through education and outreach programs, sanctuaries function as living classrooms that provide students with the knowledge and tools to act as responsible ocean stewards. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics education programs are a key part of national marine sanctuaries mission.

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