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Monuments and Sanctuiaries: What's the difference?

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Source: NOAA website

Washington, D.C. — Marine monuments and national marine sanctuaries are both types of marine protected areas. The main difference between national marine sanctuaries and marine national monuments is the designation process and the laws under which they are established. National marine sanctuaries are designated under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, while marine national monuments are established under the Antiquities Act.

National marine sanctuaries are designated in two ways: through administrative action by NOAA and through legislative action by Congress. Under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, NOAA can designate a national marine sanctuary. The National Marine Sanctuaries Act is the only federal law written specifically to protect ocean areas ranging from discrete geographies to entire ecosystems.

NOAA takes nominations for potential new national marine sanctuaries from local communities and evaluates their merit based on the information provided for national significance and management considerations. A nomination must meet certain criteria to be included on the inventory of areas NOAA can consider for designation. To learn more about NOAA's national marine sanctuary nomination process and the criteria we use to evaluate nominations, visit

Once NOAA accepts the nomination for a new national marine sanctuary to the inventory and decides to move forward with the designation process, NOAA then consults with Congress, other federal agencies, state and local government entities, fishery management councils, and the public. This process, based on requirements in the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, provides multiple opportunities for public engagement and official public comment. To date, NOAA has created 10 sanctuaries under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act.

The other way national marine sanctuaries can be created is through an act of Congress. To date, Congress has created three national marine sanctuaries: Florida Keys, Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale, and Stellwagen Bank.

The National Marine Sanctuaries Act provides the authority to issue regulations for each sanctuary and the system as a whole. These regulations are developed and updated through a public process.

Marine national monuments are designated by presidential proclamation under the Antiquities Act of 1906, which authorizes the president to establish national monuments on federal lands that contain "historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest." While NOAA has no formal role in the establishment of marine national monuments, we can support the administration by providing or gathering information on the area under consideration.

Moreover, although no public process is required under the Antiquities Act, designation of the four Pacific marine national monuments by President George W. Bush and the expansion of one of those monuments by President Barack Obama were all preceded by some level of public engagement. Additionally, the development of marine national monument management plans and regulations is carried out through a public review process.

It often takes longer to create a national marine sanctuary than a marine national monument.

Because the president can create a marine national monument by presidential proclamation, monuments can be created quickly. This means that public areas of national importance can be set aside without delay, ensuring that they are protected for future generations.

When national marine sanctuaries are created under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, it may take several years to complete the designation process because of the high level of public input NOAA receives. This input allows NOAA to balance protection with current and future compatible uses of the area's resources.

National marine sanctuaries and marine national monument are managed differently.

National marine sanctuaries are managed by NOAA through its Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, and in some cases, in partnership with state governments. We can't do it alone: we manage these special places in a way that integrates the local community.

Marine national monuments are typically managed by multiple government agencies, which may include NOAA, the Department of the Interior, and other federal and state partners. The specific management partnerships vary depending on the details of the management arrangement established in the presidential proclamation. For example, Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is co-managed by the Department of Commerce through NOAA, the Department of the Interior, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, and the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources.