A U.S. National Marine Sanctuary is a federally designated area within United States waters that protects areas of the marine environment with special conservation, recreational, ecological, historical, cultural, archeological, scientific, educational, or aesthetic qualities. The National Marine Sanctuary System consists of 14 marine protected areas that encompass more than 150,000 square miles (390,000 km2). Individual areas range from less than 1 to 137,792 square miles.
The National Marine Sanctuaries Program (NMSP), a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) administers the 13 national marine sanctuaries. The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument is a marine protected area but not a national marine sanctuary. The program began after the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill off the coast of California brought the plight of marineecosystems to national attention. The United States Congress responded in 1972 with the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Actwhich allowed for the creation of marine sanctuaries. The resources protected by U.S. national marine sanctuaries range from coral reefecosystems in Florida, Hawaii, and American Samoa to shipwrecks in Lake Huron and the wreck of the USS Monitor. The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, while not a U.S. national marine sanctuary, is also jointly administered by the NMSP, in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the State of Hawaii.