Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary
June 10, 2014

NOAA Opens Up National Marine Sanctuary Nominations To The Public

Alan McStravick for - Your Universe Online

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been responsible for a national marine sanctuary program for the past 40 years. In that time, there have been 14 designated marine sanctuaries, from a protected Civil War era shipwreck to coral reefs and tiny atolls, which fall within their purview. The process that led to that handful of protected zones included a nomination process which sought input from the public at-large. That all changed in 1995 when the nomination process was entirely shut down.

With an announcement made today by presidential adviser John Pedestal, NOAA has reopened the nominating process so that members of the American public can make suggestions directly to NOAA on what should be classified as nationally significant marine and Great Lakes areas.

The announcement was made during Capitol Hill Ocean Week (CHOW), which officially began today. CHOW, hosted by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, is instrumental in bringing together policymakers, industry leaders, scientists, academics and conservationists with the aim to focus policy and conversation on critical ocean and coastal issues.

Speaking on the importance of today's announcement, Jason Patlis, President and CEO of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation said, “This rulemaking not only opens the door to new national marine sanctuaries for the first time in 20 years, it turns the process upside down. For the first time ever, it will be local communities who most care about these places leading the effort to protect them.”

According to NOAA administrator and undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, Kathryn D. Sullivan, “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.”

She also noted that “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.”

As noted above, this process was deactivated in 1995 by NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. In the intervening two decades, groups such as tribal governments and non-governmental organizations, as well as state officials and members of Congress, have been lobbying for the establishment of new national marine sanctuaries. Aside from protecting a specified water area, these designations have been recognized as being instrumental in enhancing the local economies.

Though today's rule change reflects a significant shift in operational policy on behalf of NOAA, the administration wants members of the public to realize that the open-nomination process does not result in immediate and automatic designation of nominated water areas as national marine sanctuaries. Nominations begin a process where NOAA reviews the area, taking into account support from various local, regional and national interests and organizations.

Once NOAA decides whether or not to move forward on designating a nominated area for protected status, the process moves to its next step: a separate and highly public process that could likely take several years to complete.

Today's announcement is, itself, also a first step toward reimplementing the citizen nomination process for national marine sanctuaries. Once the final rule is published in the Federal Register establishing the Sanctuary Nomination Process, members of the public can seek out information on the process, including what to include in a nomination, from the NOAA website. There, NOAA will also provide further information on how to help prepare a nomination.

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