On October 23, 1972, the United States Congress passed the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act, establishing the National Marine Sanctuary Program. The first national marine sanctuary was USS Monitor National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of North Carolina, established January 30, 1975.
In 2022, the United States Postal Service celebrated the 50th anniversary of the National Marine Sanctuary Program with a set of 16 Forever stamps. Each one pictures scenes from different sanctuaries in the system. As of early 2022, there were 15 designated national marine sanctuaries and two national marine monuments, protecting over 620,000 square miles of US waters. Most of these are located in the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans, but two are in the Great Lakes.
National marine sanctuaries are administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and "preserve the extraordinary scenic beauty, biodiversity, historical connections, and economic productivity of our most precious underwater treasures." This includes coordinating and assisting scientific research efforts, working with native populations to respect cultural and historic traditions, and more. Volunteers also help carry out this mission. In 2021 alone, volunteers contributed over 40,000 hours to our national marine sanctuaries. In the past 17 years, that number exceeds 100,000.
National marine sanctuaries help ensure the survival of some of our most vulnerable ecosystems. Thanks to our sanctuaries, we can continue to enjoy our oceans and lakes and the flora and fauna that call them home.