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Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act (1972)

Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act (1972)

The Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act of 1972 (also known as the National Marine Sanctuaries Act) is a comprehensive law designed to deal with ocean resources. The law has three main sections: first, it regulates ocean dumping ; second, it authorizes marine pollution research; third, it establishes the marine sanctuary program. These sanctuaries can be established to protect areas of significant conservation , cultural, ecological, educational, esthetic, historical, or recreational values. A fourth component to the law, added in 1990, establishes regional marine research programs.

The law established a permit process administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate all ocean dumping, with the exception of dredging materials, which require a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers . The act mandated that ocean dumping of sewage sludge and industrial waste end by 1981, but this deadline was missed. The Ocean Dumping Ban Act of 1988 amended the 1972 law, establishing a deadline of December 31, 1991, for the end of ocean dumping of sewage sludge. A system of escalating fees and fines was incorporated into the act to help reach the deadline. The law also immediately prohibits the dumping of medical waste in the ocean

The marine sanctuaries can be designated in coastal waters or in the Great Lakes . Thus far, 13 National Marine Sanctuaries have been designated: Channel Islands (off the coast of California), Cordell Bank (California), Fagatele Bay (American Samoa), Florida Keys (Florida), Flower Garden Banks (Louisiana/Texas), Gray's Reef (Georgia), Gulf of the Farallones (California), Humpback Whale (Hawaii), Key Largo (Florida), Looe Key (Florida), Monitor (North Carolina), Monterey Bay (California), and Sellwagen Bank (Massachusetts). Numerous additional sites are being studied for designation. The sanctuaries range in size from the 0.25 mi2 (0.65 km2). Fagatele Bay to the 5,312 mi2 (13,758 km2) at Monterey Bay (larger than Connecticut).

Designation is usually made by the Secretary of Commerce, after consultation with other agencies and the affected states' governments. State waters can be included in a sanctuary if the state agrees.

In the 1980s Congress and environmental groups were concerned with the slow pace of sanctuary designation. Congress acted to expedite the designation process, and in 1990 by-passed the usual process completely to designate the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary, largely in response to a number of ship groundings in the area.

The Sanctuaries and Reserves Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in the Department of Commerce, is responsible for the administration of these sanctuaries. Management of the sanctuaries is based on a multiple use approach: the significant resources within the sanctuaries are to be protected, but uses such as diving and sport and commercial fishing may also continue in most cases if such uses do not harm the significant resources. Regulations as to what is allowed and not allowed are established for each particular sanctuary, depending on what resources are present and being protected. Offshore gas and oil drilling , for example, is not allowed in sanctuaries, but shipping (including oil tankers) often is. In addition to protection and use, the sanctuaries are also sites for research and marine education.

The act has had several amendments added, with the a complete overhaul happening in 1992. Two of those changes were that the management plans of the sanctuaries must be reviewed every five years by the Secretary and the violation fine was raised to $100,000. The most recent amendments were made in 2000. The most significant of those was the clarification of illegal acts on the sanctuaries.

See also Environmental education; Environmental science; Recreation

[Christopher McGrory Klyza ]



National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. National Marine Sanctuary Program. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1990.


James, A. "Watery Keep." Outside (January 1993): 1920.

"Ocean Pollution Controlled." Congressional Quarterly Almanac 44 (1988): 16061.


National Marine Sanctuaries. [cited July 2002]. <>.

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