Our National Marine Sanctuaries are some of the most valuable areas in our oceans. Sanctuary habitats include coral and rocky reefs, ocean gardens and kelp forests, whale migrations corridors, deep sea canyons, and safe habitat for endangered species. The U.S. West Coast claims 12,067 square miles of marine protected areas around the Channel Islands, Cordell Bank, Gulf of the Farallones, and Monterey Bay in California and Washington’s Olympic Coast sanctuary. The Pacific Islands are home to the largest marine protected area in the United States, stretching the length of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and humpback whale habitat is protected in the main Hawaiian Islands. Fagatele Bay on the island of Tutuila in American Samoa also has sanctuary protection. In early 2009, several new areas in the Pacific were given national marine monument status, more than doubling the size of the western pacific marine sanctuaries. The East Coast, Great Lakes and Gulf of Mexico are host to over 5000 square miles of sanctuary waters including areas in the Florida Keys, Gray’s Reef off Georgia, Flower Garden Banks in the Gulf, Stellwagen off the New England coast, Monitor off of North Carolina coast and Thunder Bay in Lake Huron.
Our sanctuaries are unique places and should be some of the first places protected from environmental harms including damaging water and air pollution from ocean going vessels. Unfortunately, with the explosion of vessel traffic including cruise ship traffic in U.S. oceans, our marine sanctuaries remain under serious threat of degradation from vessel discharges.