Oceans & Coastal Resources:
A Briefing Book
Congressional Research Service Report 97-588 ENR
Redistributed as a service of the National Library for the Environment

Marine Sanctuaries Program

Prepared by Jeffrey A. Zinn

Senior Analyst in Natural Resources Policy
Environment and Natural Resources Policy Division

Issue Definition
Background and Analysis
Status of the Issue
Continuing Concerns
Sources and References for Further Information

Issue Definition

The national marine sanctuaries program, authorized in 1972 through Title III of the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA), allows for the designation of protected areas in federal and state coastal and ocean waters for multiple purpose use. The 104th Congress reauthorized this program with amendments through FY1999 (P.L. 104-283). While several concerns specific to individual Bites were addressed, broader questions, with the exception of revenue-generating activities, were not.

Background and Analysis

The national marine sanctuaries program is administered by the Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA has designated the following sanctuaries.

- Monitor (NC) - Flower Garden Bank ('IX)
- Gray's Reef (GA) - Hawaii Islands (HI)
- Cordell Banks (CA) - Key Largo (FL)
- Fagatele Bay (American Samoa) - Lou Key (FL)
- Florida Keys (upper and lower units) (FL) - Monterey Bay (CA)
- Olympic Coast (WA) - Steliwagon Banks (MA)
- Channel Islands (CA) - Gulf of the Faraloones (CA)

Designations are pending for Thunder Bay (MI) and Northwest Straits (WA).

Congress enacted the 1972 legislation because of public concern over oil spills and increased dumping of waste materials into coastal waters. The sanctuaries program offers a unique federal mechanism to provide comprehensive planning and management of defined marine areas, including regulation where necessary, to assure long-term preservation of the specified resource values.

Other federal laws may provide protection for single purposes within the same area, but do not provide the comprehensive protection that accompanies sanctuary designation. Examples of other interactive federal laws are the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, as amended, Comprehensive Oilspill Liability Act of 1990, Marine Mammal Protection Act, Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, Title I of the MPRSA (Ocean Dumping Act), Coastal Zone Management Act, and federal historic preservation laws.

Congress amended Title III of the MPRSA in 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, and 1996. The 1980 amendments (P.L. 96-332) gave veto authority to the adjacent states and Congress for a designation or any of its terms. The amendments also required that the terms of designation include the characteristics of the area that give it conservation, recreational, ecological, or aesthetic value. The 1984 amendments (P.L. 98-498) changed the procedures by which sanctuaries were selected and designated -- requiring the consideration of specific factors (historical, research, or educational were added to the four existing values), wider consultation, environmental studies, and compatible multiple use. The 1988 amendments (P.L. 100-627, Title II) contained provisions for compensation for destruction or loss of, or injury to, sanctuary resources. Of specific interest were the vessel liability provisions, which could be applied to oil spills or other actions that damage marine sanctuary resources.

The 1992 amendments (P.L. 102-587, Title II) prohibited activities outside a marine sanctuary that may harm the protected values within, prohibited offshore oil and gas leasing within specified designated sanctuaries, improved the timeliness of sanctuary designation (which many claimed had been too slow and inefficient), designated three new sanctuaries, broadened designation criteria, and authorized funding for FY 1993 through FY 1996.

The 1996 amendments authorized funding through FY1999, increasing the total authorization ceiling by 50% over three years. They made specific changes at several sites, including the U.S.S. Monitor, the Hawaiian Islands, and the Flower Garden Banks. This law authorizes the creation and marketing of licensed symbols and the designation of official sponsors. Collected fees will go to a program account, with fees generated by an individual sanctuary being designated to that site.

Status of the Issue

The next reauthorization of Title Ill of the MPRSA is expected in 1999. Until that time, the House Resources Committee and the Senate Commerce Committee 'nay hold oversight hearings. A number of issues that had been raised but were not addressed in the 1996 amendments, including whether or how to regulate activities outside a marine sanctuary that may adversely affect the protected values within, whether to broaden designation criteria, and whether to alter the designation process, may be discussed.

Continuing Concerns

These concerns and questions are provided to stimulate further discussion of the issues noted above.

  1. Designations have become cumbersome and time-consuming, because of previous changes to the selection and designation process. Additionally, provisions in the 1980 amendments allow Congress to veto a designation or any of its terms if both Chambers adopted a concurrent resolution disapproving the unacceptable items; has this provision had any effect on the designation process? How could the designation process be stream-lined?
  2. Should new designations be made? Funding for administering the existing program is considered by some to be insufficient. If new designations are made, will adequate funding be available for the existing as well as the new designations, taking into account the new revenue-raising provisions as well as the continuing efforts to reduce the federal budget deficit?
  3. Should the sanctuary designation criteria be altered? The various amendments to the sanctuary program have broadened the factors that could be considered in site selection or designation; earlier Congresses considered legislation to include cultural qualities, international significance, and research.
  4. Compatibility of uses between the sanctuary and surrounding areas have receive local attention. Is this a sufficiently widespread problem to warrant congressional attention, to be resolved through national legislation rather than at a site-specific level?

Sources and References for Further Information

U.S. Congress, House Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries, Subcommittees on Oceanography, Great Lakes and the Outer Continental Shelf-, and on Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation and the Environment. The Current Status and Future Needs of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Sanctuary Program. Hearing, 102d Cong., 1st Sess. Nov. 7, 1991. Washington, DC: U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1992. Serial No.102-55.

U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on Commerce. Reauthorization of Title III of the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act. Hearing, 102d Cong., 2nd Sess. Mar.25, 1992. Washington, DC: U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1992. S.Hrg. 102-952.

U.S. Dept. of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Marine Sanctuaries Review Team. National A~rine Sanctuaries: Challenge and Opportunity. Washington, DC: Feb.22, 1991.

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