National Sanctuaries Protect Our Precious Marine Resources

By Jodie Toft, acting director of marine conservation

Riddle me this: Where in Washington do we have an area the size of Puerto Rico with canyons and rivers, thick with flora and fauna, much of which is in the dark?  If you answered the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, you are most certainly right. 

Did you also know that this Saturday, Aug. 12, is the third annual Get Into Your Sanctuary Day? Beach walks, sand art and a barbecue are all on the docket in the Olympic Coast sanctuary, as is an opportunity to truly get in to the sanctuary — with a group plunge into the refreshing Pacific Ocean! What better way to spend the weekend than enjoying ocean breezes and experiencing one of Washington’s true treasures?


Check out more featured public lands and our outdoor recreation recommendations! 


Across our country, the National Marine Sanctuary System boasts incredibly diverse ecological, geological and cultural resources. These sanctuaries and Marine National Monuments come in all shapes and sizes, each a unique reflection of its surroundings and the circumstances that led to its designation.

Located 1,000 miles south of Hawaii, Palmyra Atoll is one of the most spectacular marine wilderness areas on Earth. The Nature Conservancy bought Palmyra in 2000. Today, Palmyra is a National Marine Monument, and we partner with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to protect it. Through the Palmyra Atoll Research Consortium, it is also being developed as a center for scientific study. Photo by Tim Calver.

Located 1,000 miles south of Hawaii, Palmyra Atoll is one of the most spectacular marine wilderness areas on Earth. The Nature Conservancy bought Palmyra in 2000. Today, Palmyra is a National Marine Monument, and we partner with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to protect it. Through the Palmyra Atoll Research Consortium, it is also being developed as a center for scientific study. Photo by Tim Calver.

Ranging in size from the footprint of the shipwrecked Civil War ironclad USS Monitor (Monitor National Marine Sanctuary) to the vast Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, the Sanctuary System protects 600,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters. It also generates approximately $8 billion for our coastal economies and draws more than 42 million visitors annually.

The dashed line marks the boundaries of the 3,000-square-mile Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. Map courtesy of National Ocean Service.

The dashed line marks the boundaries of the 3,000-square-mile Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. Map courtesy of National Ocean Service.

In Washington, the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary covers more than 3,000 square miles off Washington’s outer coast. The Sanctuary was established in 1994, 3 years after the wreck of the Tenyo Maru northwest of Cape Flattery left an oil slick that spread from Vancouver Island to Oregon. The incident galvanized stakeholders to act and seek designation of the sanctuary to protect marine waters from oil exploration and development. The sanctuary does just that, and is home to a wide variety of creatures and habitats, contains more than 200 identified shipwrecks and supports tribal and non-tribal commercial and recreational fishing throughout.   

The Nature Conservancy takes pride in our long history with our National Marine Sanctuary system. We are active members of Sanctuary Advisory Councils for the Olympic Coast, Florida Keys, Stellwagen Bank and Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuaries. The councils are collections of a diverse set of community representatives that advise sanctuary superintendents on a variety of issues from stewardship to science and outreach. We also advocated for development of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and played a large role in crafting a management plan grounded in science. 

The Nature Conservancy’s support for our sanctuary system comes from our recognition that it is a collection of magnificent seascapes that represent a precious heritage for our country. We encourage you, too, to stand up and dive into our nation’s largest system of parks — the underwater ones, in this case.

Dive deeper into our oceans work


HELP US PROTECT THE PLACES YOU LOVE TO EXPLORE, AND WE'LL SEND YOU LIMITED EDITION OUTSIDER GEAR! 


Banner photo courtesy of NOAA/Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary