Saving Our Sanctuaries: How You Can Help!

Great News! Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary will soon be undergoing some major changes. Originally the smallest of the national marine sanctuaries at just a quarter of a square mile (0.25 sq. mi.), new regulations adopted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) will add five reef and offshore areas, including Rose Atoll. These new boundaries will encompass just under 14,000 sq. mi., making this marine sanctuary the largest in the United States (slightly larger than the state of Rhode Island)! To reflect the additions, the sanctuary’s name will be changed to the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa (NMSAS). 
Sunset over Fagatele Bay. Credit: Kip Evans, NOAA
The inclusion of Rose Atoll in this monument, part of the 2009 presidential proclamation by President George W. Bush that also created the other marine national monuments in the Pacific (find out more here and here), has radically increased the size of the newly minted NMSAS. A monumental success, to be sure, and the culmination of a multiple year process to fulfill the former President’s directive. However, with the difficult budget climate and the already inadequate funding for sanctuaries management, how will we continue to successfully safeguard the best and most pristine areas of the American coastline for ourselves and for future generations?
Flourishing coral reef surrounding Rose Atoll, soon to
be incorporated into the National Marine Sanctuary
of American Samoa. Credit: Jean Kenyon, NOAA
Marine sanctuariesare an important part of how we manage our marine resources. Since the establishment of the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary in 1975, the program has grown to incorporate 13 distinct sanctuaries and 1 marine national monument along both the Pacific and Atlantic coastlines. They protect areas of great ecological, cultural, historical, and scientific significance. Although regulations vary between and even within sanctuary areas, many keep human activity to a minimum by heavily restricting fishing gear, prohibiting dumping, restricting speed, and prohibiting oil and gas exploration. Recent studies have shown that, in an ocean choked by debris, threatened by acidification, and intensely overfished, protected areas such as the sanctuaries dramatically improve biodiversity and increase resiliency. 
Map of the National Marine Sanctuary System.
Credit: NOAA
However, recent funding cuts and budget difficulties have placed the future success of this program at risk. Without sufficient funding, sanctuaries such as the newly expanded NMSAS will be unable to implement successful management plans. We now face the possibility of visitor center closures, the elimination of research projects and outreach programs, and the diminished capacity of enforcement agencies. 
It is imperative that the National Marine Sanctuary Program receive adequate funding as it continues to incorporate and enforce areas as directed by our nation’s leadership. Marine sanctuaries protect areas of national significance, both ecologically and culturally. They promote healthy oceans that in turn lead to economic recovery and job creation. 
How can you get more involved in the fight to save our sanctuaries? Most importantly, you can contact your Congressional representatives today and encourage them to support the National Marine Sanctuary Program. You can also include a trip to a sanctuary on your next summer vacation. These pristine reefs and surrounding communities provide ample opportunity to see the best of America’s oceans. Show your support for the Sanctuary Program today! 
This octopus in Rose Atoll needs your help to protect
him and his home!! Credit: Jean Kenyon, NOAA

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