Accomplishments and successes in administering ocean and coastal conservation policy

NOAA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Marine Mammal Commission are jointly celebrating 50 Years of Ocean and Coastal Conservation through the Coastal Zone Management Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, and the Clean Water Act. All were signed in October 1972 and reach their 50th anniversaries in October 2022. We have achieved much in the last 50 years, including these accomplishments.

Overarching accomplishments

  • These acts, together with others passed later on, form the foundation for the nation’s coastal, Great Lakes, and marine conservation efforts and have influenced the way governments and the American people view, protect, and manage their wildlife, coasts, Great Lakes, and ocean. 
  • The Coastal Zone Management Act created a strong state-federal partnership to protect, restore, and responsibly develop our nation’s diverse coastal communities and resources, ensuring resilient coastal communities, ecosystems, and economies. To meet the goals of the Act, the national program takes a comprehensive approach to coastal resource management—balancing the often competing demands of coastal resource use, economic development, and conservation. 
  • The Coastal Zone Management Act and National Marine Sanctuaries Act created and developed the nation’s networks of marine protected areas–the National Estuarine Research Reserve System and the National Marine Sanctuary System–that together protect nearly 400 million acres of important Great Lake, estuarine, and marine waters. The addition of the National Marine Protected Area Center in 2000 added a valuable linkage to and support for the network of more than 1,200 marine protected areas managed by federal, tribal, state, and local authorities.

National Marine Sanctuaries Act (NMSA)

  • Since 1972, the National Marine Sanctuary System has grown to 15 National Marine Sanctuaries, and two marine national monuments that protect more than 620,000 sq. miles of ocean and Great Lakes waters, an area nearly as large as the state of Alaska. Each sanctuary creates a foundation for sanctuary managers to identify and develop community-based solutions to address resource conservation issues.   
  • National marine sanctuaries and marine national monuments provide extensive public engagement opportunities, including: 17 community-based sanctuary advisory councils with more than 600 members and alternates, a volunteer and citizen scientist force of more than 9,000 people dedicating more than 100,000 hours of service on average per year, visitor centers and partner exhibits reaching more than 44 million people annually, hundreds of annual educational events, and dozens of public hearings each year.
  • Due to the influence of the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, numerous domestic and international laws (including the Archeological Resources Protection Act (1979), the RMS Titanic Memorial Act (1986), the Abandoned Shipwreck Act (1988), and the Sunken Military Craft Act (2004)) have increased our ability to protect maritime heritage and cultural resources, and helped develop the disciplines of maritime heritage resource management and research. 
  • Working with the US Coast Guard and the International Maritime Organization, we have adjusted vessel traffic lanes to reduce whale/vessel collisions and move vessel traffic away from sensitive habitats, banned anchoring on sensitive coral ecosystems, and implemented Particularly Sensitive Sea Area designations to move vessel traffic away from fragile coral and seagrass ecosystems.

Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA)

  • All coastal and Great Lakes states and territories (with the exception of Alaska) participate in the voluntary National Coastal Zone Management Program, a state and federal partnership that plays a leadership role in ensuring the resilience of the nation’s coastal zone. Since 40 percent of the nation lives in coastal counties, in an area that represents only 10 percent of the nation’s land mass, the importance of the coast cannot be underestimated.
  • The National Estuarine Research Reserve System, with 30 sites protecting over 1.4 million acres of estuaries, is the nation’s estuary research and stewardship leader, and also provides programs designed to improve the nation’s knowledge about this important resource. Estuaries are known as “the nurseries of the sea” since so many marine animals spend at least some portion of their life here. Estuaries are also important in terms of negating flooding, offering recreational opportunities, and improving water quality.

Marine Mammal Protection Act

  • In the early 1970’s, marine mammal stranding response was highly localized and didn’t exist in many coastal areas of the United States. Today, we have an established, trained, and well-qualified network of stranding responders who provide “boots on the beach” response to sick, injured, and dead marine mammals in all coastal states and territories.
  • Since the enactment of the 1994 amendments, NOAA Fisheries has completed and now maintains stock assessment reports for 259 stocks of marine mammals that occur in U.S. waters, providing invaluable information on the status of stocks and the threats they face.
  • The protections afforded to marine mammals by the Marine Mammal Protection Act has stopped the decline of many marine mammal populations and has led to the recovery of several such as populations of humpback whales, gray whales, gray seals, and California sea lions.  
  • The National Marine Fisheries Service has established seven stakeholder-based teams to reduce bycatch of 33 marine mammal stocks in 25 commercial fisheries.

Clean Water Act

  • Created by the Clean Water Act, the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit program authorized EPA and states to perform permitting and enforcement actions to address water pollution by regulating the discharge of pollutants into surface waters. These permits have reduced the impact of pollutants found in effluent discharges, resulting in the protection of habitat for species of fish and of our water bodies. 
  • The Clean Water Act authorized the National Estuary Program that protects and restores water quality and ecological integrity of estuaries of national significance. Currently, 28 estuaries located along the Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific coasts and in Puerto Rico are designated as estuaries of national significance.
  • This legislation also established the Clean Water State Revolving Fund in the 1987 amendments, which is a federal-state partnership that provides communities low-cost financing for a wide range of water quality infrastructure projects. Since its inception, the fund has supported a wide variety of projects that improved wastewater infrastructure, mitigated stormwater, spurred water and energy efficiency, and mitigated nonpoint source pollution. With interest rates as low as 0%, this program has provided over $145 billion in affordable funding for communities of all types and sizes nationwide.