Communities are the center of sanctuaries. And, sanctuaries start in the community.

For decades, communities across the nation look to national marine sanctuaries to protect nationally significant areas of our ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes. Sanctuaries conserve critical habitats and marine life, celebrate and safeguard historical shipwrecks and cultural artifacts, and promote economic benefits.

To create a national marine sanctuary, passionate citizens can explore two different approaches to designate a new sanctuary — through Congress or the Administration.

A community can advocate to their Members of Congress to pass legislation to create a national marine sanctuary that is later signed into law by the President. Laws established Florida Keys, Stellwagen Bank, and Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale national marine sanctuaries.

A community can also nominate an area to become a new sanctuary by submitting a proposal to the Administration through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) sanctuary nomination process. NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries reviews these community nominations to ensure they have diverse support; meet criteria of national significance; and consider management considerations and other factors. After NOAA accepts the candidate site then it may be considered for potential designation. The sanctuary designation is a rigorous public process that emphasizes community participation and engagement to ensure each sanctuary takes into account the needs of that community. The designation process includes community meetings, public comment periods, and consultation to inform NOAA’s development of the management plans and sanctuary regulations.


The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation supports expanding the number of marine and Great Lakes sanctuaries across the country. NMSF provides resources, training, technical guidance, and grants to local groups for coalition-building.