On June 10, during Capitol Hill Ocean Week, an announcement was made by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that starting from now, the American public can nominate marine and Great Lakes areas that they believe should be classified as national marine sanctuaries.
This community-based nomination process has been installed in response to the large number of requests for new sanctuaries that have been made in recent years by both communities and stakeholders. It is hoped that involving the public will assist the NOAA in continuing to uphold its aim of ensuring healthy marine communities and economies.
For the last four decades, national marine sanctuaries have worked to safeguard numerous different sites of special significance across the U.S., from coral reefs and atolls to Civil War shipwrecks. The National Marine Sanctuaries Act directs the NOAA to identify, define and protect these treasured areas.
“Our national marine sanctuaries not only protect special places in America’s oceans and Great Lakes, but they promote responsible and sustainable ocean uses to protect the health of our oceans for future generations,” said NOAA administrator Kathryn S. Sullivan in a news-release.
Back in 1995, the process for nominating new sanctuaries was changed by NOAA and ever since there has been a cry for the pursuit of new national sanctuaries in recognition of their ability to protect cherished marine sites and boost the local economy. This new system has so far received a tremendous amount of positive feedback from the public. However, NOAA makes it clear that the new nomination process does not necessarily mean that new national marine sanctuaries will be automatically designated. What it does mean is that local, regional and national voices will be taken into account when new areas are considered for designation. The NOAA will then review the proposed site and assess its significance and whether managing it is viable. It will likely still take several years for new sites to become officially designated as marine sanctuaries.
“This new process increases the public’s involvement in the stewardship of our oceans, which is central to NOAA’s overall mission. We look forward to hearing from the public about places in the marine and Great Lakes environment they feel deserve special status and protection as national marine sanctuaries,” said Sullivan.
The NOAA has released a page on the sanctuary nomination process and after the rule is published the website will be updated to contain information on how to nominate new sites. It is expected that the nomination review process will take 3-6 months, and if a site passes through to the next stage it may be considered for marine sanctuary designation.