US National Marine Sanctuary System

Expeditions:US National Marine Sanctuary System

Encompassing fourteen regions in the world,
the US National Marine Sanctuaries serves to protect and preserve
the living resources of our oceans, ensuring their future vitality for generations to come


There are places on our planet where the full complexity of nature thrives – many of which are found in the thirteen National Marine Sanctuaries and one Marine National Monument of the US National Marine Sanctuaries (NMS) System. For over forty years, the national marine sanctuaries have worked to protect regions spanning America’s coastal oceans to the Great Lakes, from tropical coral reefs to temperature kelp forests, and even remote atolls of the Pacific. Together, this network of protected regions enable rare and amazing species to thrive, and places where you can witness goliath groupers, weighing up to 800 pounds; the humpback whale, majestic but endangered; the giant Pacific octopus, very rarely seen in the wild; and coral in the midst of a spawning event, an incredible display that happens just once a year.

The US National Marine Sanctuaries were initiated in 1972 with the passing of the National Marine Sanctuaries Act (NMSA) as part of our growing understanding about the value of our underwater ecosystems and the need to set aside areas for their protection. While nearly 13 percent of land on Earth is protected, only 3 percent of our oceans are designated for protection. Each of the thirteen NMS were created at different periods of time and have different regulations on what marine activities may take place – yet all acknowledge the growing needs of serving our communities, educating our societies about sustainable fisheries and preserving our heritage and relationship with our blue planet we depend upon for survival.

In 2005 and 2006, Jean-Michel Cousteau, his son, Fabien, daughter, Céline, and his team of expert divers set out to investigate, for the first time, all thirteen of our National Marine Sanctuaries. While discovering what makes them unique, the group explored how these sites are conservation challenges for the country. Traversing thousands of miles, the Ocean Adventures team ventures below and above water off the coasts of Michigan, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, Massachusetts, California, Washington, Hawai'i, and American Samoa on a mission to introduce viewers to these fragile sanctuaries.

List of the US National Marine Sanctuaries

  • Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary (Pacific)
  • Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary (Pacific)
  • National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa (Pacific)
  • Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (Atlantic, Gulf Coast)
  • Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (Gulf Coast)
  • Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary (Atlantic)
  • Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary (Pacific)
  • Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary (Pacific)
  • Monitor National Marine Sanctuary (Atlantic)
  • Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (Pacific)
  • Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (Pacific)
  • Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (Atlantic)
  • Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary (Great Lakes)

US Marine National Monument

  • Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (Pacific)
The US National Marine Sanctuary System Expedition Team
Videos from the US National Marine Sanctuary System

Learn more about our work in the US National Marine Sanctuaries and Marine National Monument

Watch our PBS documentary series Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Adventures - America's Underwater Treasures and Voyage to Kure.


© Carrie Vonderhaar, Ocean Futures Society

Quick Facts

  • Each of the thirteen marine protected areas are managed individually and for different uses
  • Not all of the NMS are fully protected – some for example may exempt extractive uses from regulation, such as destructive bottom trawl fishing
  • An effective network of NMS requires everyone to be involved – so your voice matters in improving the protection of these invaluable resources

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