The science is clear. Diminished, depleted stocks of fish and other marine life can recover in a protected habitat.

That’s why creating additional protected areas is a priority for nations participating in Our Ocean, One Future, a conference to be hosted by the U.S. Department of State from September 15 to 16.

U.S. marine sanctuaries protect natural and cultural features while allowing people to use and enjoy the ocean in sustainable ways. The United States has expanded marine protection areas in its territorial waters recently, including:

  • Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, which President Obama quadrupled in size on August 26. Covering an area of water more than twice the size of Texas, the coral-rich monument will help protect more than 7,000 species.
  • Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument in the central Pacific Ocean encompasses seven atolls and islands. President Obama acted to increase its size sixfold in 2014.  National Wildlife Refuge System documents describe the islands as “the most widespread collection of coral reef, seabird, and shorebird protected areas on the planet under a single nation’s jurisdiction.”

    Underwater photo of clump of purple and turquoise sea anemone (USFWS)
    This sea anemone at the Pacific Remote Islands sanctuary can grow up to 1 meter in diameter. (USFWS)
  • Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, off northern California’s coast, more than doubled in size in 2015 to protect a rich marine ecosystem. Sanctuary waters extending across 8,534 square kilometers of the Pacific support 25 rare species, 36 marine mammal species, more than 250,000 seabirds and one of the most significant great white shark populations on the planet.

  • Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, adjacent to Farallones, is increasing to encompass 3,330 square kilometers. A rocky sea-bottom feature, the bank and ocean conditions surrounding it create a rich, productive marine community.
Diver at underwater shipwreck (NOAA/NMS)
A diver explores a shipwreck at the Thunder Bay sanctuary. (NOAA/NMS)

Besides the sanctuaries noted here, the United States maintains a broader network of reserves, parks and wildlife refuges in coastal and island areas.

Here are some things you can do to support a marine sanctuary near you.