National Marine Sanctuaries

What is a National Marine Sanctuary?

National Marine Sanctuaries protect natural and cultural resources while allowing people to use and enjoy the ocean in a sustainable way.   Sanctuaries are nominated by local communities.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Office of National Marine Sanctuaries reviews nominations.  If NOAA determines that a nomination meets the criteria for becoming a sanctuary, a separate multi-year, public stakeholder consultation designation process is required by law before a sanctuary can be formally designated.  The designation process typically lasts 3-5 years and provides an opportunity for the views of all interested parties to be taken into account.  Designated sanctuaries rely on a combination of existing U.S. and State of Alaska regulations.  If necessary, additional regulations could be issued following public comment.

Common misconceptions about sanctuaries and the St. George nomination:

  • Sanctuaries automatically ban certain uses of the ocean, such as fishing. This is not true. Under The National Marine Sanctuary Act, sanctuaries are adaptively managed for multiple uses that are compatible with resource protection and sustainable development. In the case of fishing, the North Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council and the State of Alaska would retain regulatory authority and would continue to determine allowable fish catches.
  • National Marine Sanctuaries are the same as Marine National Monuments. They are not. Although both aim to conserve marine resources, the two approaches are completely different. The National Marine Sanctuaries process is flexible, transparent and participatory. By law, NOAA can only designate sanctuaries after conducting lengthy consultation processes during which the interests of all stakeholders are heard. Monuments are created by Executive Orders under the Antiquities Act (not NOAA) and can result in the prohibition of all or several types of uses such as fishing or other commercial activities.
  • The St. George nomination will interfere with the renovation and expansion of St. George’s harbor, a top-priority project. This is absolutely not true. The community strongly supports both initiatives and is working hard to ensure their completion. Renovation and expansion of the harbor is a kind of activity permitted under the National Marine Sanctuary program. In fact, the creation of National Marine Sanctuaries provides additional attention and significance to areas, which usually helps to attract investments in infrastructure improvements, such as harbor renovations. In addition and very significantly, St. George’s nomination anticipated renovation and expansion of the city’s harbor by specifically including a buffer zone for the harbor in the proposed sanctuary area. The creation of the St. George Unangan Heritage National Marine Sanctuary  will complement the City of St. George’s efforts to renovate and expand its harbor.   See Letter from Army Corps of Engineers to NOAA regarding the St. George Harbor renovation project.
  • The creation of a Sanctuary would interfere with subsistence uses and hurt the regional and local economy. Not true. The law prohibits the termination of subsistence rights and promotes the conservation of resources, in this case for future generations of the St. George community. St. George’s proposed sanctuary comprises a very limited, 30-mile radius around St. George (and only 20 miles toward St. Paul). Like other national marine sanctuaries, St. George’s would strengthen the local economy by boosting tourism, research and education.  In fact, an economic analysis of that the proposed sanctuary would provide St. George with a minimum of four full-time jobs and between $417,000-$1,484,000 in annual economic benefits, as well as $2.8-$3.3 billion in annual non-market ecosystem service benefits.

For information about what sanctuaries are, how they are very different from marine national monuments and the process that leads to their creation:

Fact sheet

Letter from St. George Mayor Patrick Pletnikoff to NOAA

Letter from Army Corps of Engineers to NOAA regarding St. George Harbor renovation project

The Economic Benefits of the Proposed St. George Unangan Heritage National Marine Sanctuary

General Information about National Marine Sanctuaries

The National Marine Sanctuary System

The Sanctuary Nomination Process

National Marine Sanctuaries – Frequently Asked Questions

Monuments and Sanctuaries: What’s the Difference?

Sanctuaries and Sustainable Development

National Marine Sanctuaries have a history of cooperating closely with local businesses, harbors, and fishermen.  The following are examples of cooperation with West Coast National Marine Sanctuaries:

Collaborations with Business

Collaborations with Fishermen

Collaborations with Harbors