Marine Sanctuaries Offer Stunning Views, Rare Species, Historic Wrecks

U.S. National Marine Sanctuaries Celebrate 50 years of Ocean Conservation. See lists, descriptions, locations, resources and navigational charts of the 15 U.S. National Marine Sanctuaries, now celebrating 50 years of conservation.
Humpback Whales diving and feeding with sea lions in the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary

What’s so special about Monterey Bay?

Monterey Bay is one of 15 National Marine Sanctuaries in the U.S., overseen by NOAA and celebrating 50 years as of 2022. The list is growing, with four more sanctuaries being proposed.

If Monterey Bay is any indication, these national marine sanctuaries are incredibly special. Monterey Bay is one of our nation’s largest national marine sanctuaries, bigger than Yellowstone National Park. Offshore canyons reach 12,743 ft. in depth. In its waters live 36 species of marine mammals and 525 species of fish, which give the area the nickname Serengeti of the Sea.

The designation gives the federal government rights to regulate, permit, assess and restore damage as well as enforce regulations in a coordinated effort to preserve these marine environments.

A rundown of the 15 sanctuaries, with mariner chart references

You can navigate to and experience each of these marine wonders. All charts are available at OceanGrafix.

National Marine Sanctuaries span the U.S. waters.
Photo credit: NOAA Marine Sanctuaries 

West Coast Region

Olympic Coast. Spanning Olympic National Park, Puget Sound and much of Washington State’s coast. (NOAA nautical charts 1803, 18400, 18500)

Cordell Bank. North of San Francisco, known for bird and whale watching. (NOAA nautical chart 18640)

Greater Farallones. Adjacent to and north of San Francisco, with fishing, shipwrecks and rocky intertidal areas. (NOAA nautical chart 18640)

Monterey Bay. See description above. (NOAA nautical chart 18680)

Channel Islands. Includes five of the eight Channel Islands, with two major ocean currents and breathtaking scenery just 100 miles from Los Angeles. (NOAA nautical chart 18720)

Pacific Islands Region

Hawaii Humpback Whale. Protects these whales during mating season and encourages viewing from November through April. (NOAA nautical chart 19004)

American Samoa. The eastern portion of the archipelago in Polynesia. The only U.S. territory south of the equator. (NGA nautical chart 83010)

Northeast and Great Lakes Region

Thunder Bay.  Protects nearly 100 historic shipwrecks in Lake Huron off the Michigan coast.  (NOAA nautical chart 14961)

Stellwagen Bank. Offers whale watching and shipwrecks. (NOAA nautical chart 13267)

Monitor. Protects the wreck of the famed Civil War ironclad USS Monitor. (NOAA nautical chart 12222)

Mallows Bay – Potomac River. Protects and interprets the remnants of more than 100 World War I-era wooden steamships – known as the “Ghost Fleet.” (NOAA nautical chart 12288)

Wisconsin-Shipwreck Coast. Shipwrecks off the west coast of Lake Michigan. (NOAA nautical chart 14903)

Southeast Region

Gray’s Reef. Off of Savannah, Georgia, and Sapelo Island, known for wildlife viewing and fishing. (NOAA nautical chart 11509)

Florida Keys. Fishing, dolphin watching, diving, the Keys have it all.  (NOAA nautical charts 11441, 11445, 11446, 11449, 11453, 11463, 11464)

Flower Garden Banks. Coral viewing by snorkel or scuba diving (be sure to sanitize your gear). (NOAA nautical chart 11300) 

Start your visit with the information-rich sanctuary’s website

NOAA’s sanctuary website has all the information you need to plan a visit to any one of these national marine sanctuaries. You’ll find marine forecasts, responsible recreation practices, visitor accessibility resources and an events calendar. Many have visitor centers.

Boating along the waters of a sanctuary is just one way to experience it. NOAA encourages an immersive experience, including:

  • Diving / Snorkeling
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Paddle Sports
  • Surfing
  • Whale Watching
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Tide pooling
  • Heritage Trails
  • Stewardship

To whet your appetite, you can take virtual tours of some of the sanctuaries, such as Flower Garden Banks, Stellwagen Bank and Cordell Bank, all available on the NOAA sanctuaries website.


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