The National Marine Sanctuaries System was originally authorized as Title III of the National Marine, Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act of 1972. This law required the Secretary of Commerce, through NOAA, to identify, designate, and manage marine sites based on conservation, ecological, recreational, historical, aesthetic, scientific, or educational value within significant national ocean and Great Lakes waters.
The first sanctuary was designated in 1975 off the Outer Banks of North Carolina to protect the wreck of the U.S.S. Monitor, a famous Civil War ironclad. Since then, 12 other marine sanctuaries and one national marine monument have been added to the system. Today, the sanctuary system includes deep ocean gardens, nearshore coral reefs, whale migration corridors, deep sea canyons, and underwater archeological sites.
The Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary is an 842-square-mile (638-square-nautical-mile) marine protected area at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay. The sanctuary has established several regulations that prohibit certain activities, like sand and gravel mining, transferring petroleum products, and taking or harming marine mammals, birds and turtles, but allows both commercial and recreational fishing.
Marine sanctuaries range in size from one-quarter square mile in Fagatele Bay, American Samoa, to more than 135,000 square miles in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, the largest marine protected area in the world. In general, activities like drilling, mining, dredging, dumping waste, or removing artifacts are prohibited in marine sanctuaries. Shipping, commercial and recreational fishing, boating, scuba diving, and marine tourism are generally allowed where compatible with resource protection.