NOAA’s Existing Marine Conservation Authorities

The following is a summary of the existing authorities NOAA uses to manage trust resources.

Antiquities Act

Separate from NOAA-specific authorities, the president may designate marine national monuments under the Antiquities Act to be managed by NOAA. NOAA currently co-manages five marine national monuments: Rose Atoll as part of the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa, Papahānaumokuākea, Northeast Canyons and Seamounts, Marianas Trench, and Pacific Remote Islands.

Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA)

The Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) establishes the National Coastal Zone Management Program (NCZMP) and authorized designation of National Estuarine Research Reserves (NERR). Reserves provide long-term protection of estuarine lands and waters for research, education, stewardship, and interpretation.  Under the federal-state partnership of the NCZMP, states maintain and enhance public access to the coast and conserve coastal resources through planning, acquisition, and management programs. For instance, the Special Area Management Plan tool authorized by the CZMA enables states to identify a specific coastal or marine area, identify management challenges within that boundary, and conduct a public process to balance use and conservation therein.

Endangered Species Act (ESA)

In listing a species under the Endangered Species Act, NOAA evaluates and identifies whether any areas meet the definition of critical habitat that is necessary to support the recovery of the listed species. Once designated, other federal agencies consult with NOAA to ensure actions they fund, authorize, or undertake are not likely to destroy or adversely modify the critical habitat. The analyses supporting critical habitat designations are based on the best scientific data available and undergo independent peer review.

Executive Order 13158

The Executive Order 13158 directs NOAA’s MPA Center to work cooperatively with DOI to “strengthen and expand” the nation’s system of marine protected areas.  The MPA Center maintains the national MPA Inventory and supports federal and state MPA programs through capacity building, information and tools.  

Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA)

In federal waters, fisheries are managed under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which created eight regional fishery management councils that develop and implement fisheries management plans in cooperation with NOAA.  Most federal MPA managers must work cooperatively with NOAA Fisheries and fishery management councils to address fisheries impacts.  Area-based tools implemented for fisheries management include designation of essential fish habitat, habitat areas of particular concern, and time/area and gear-based restrictions.  

Marine Mammal Protection Act

The Marine Mammal Protection Act protects all marine mammals within U.S. jurisdiction (both terrestrial and marine) and establishes a national policy to prevent decline of their population to maintain their function.

National Marine Sanctuaries Act (NMSA)

The National Marine Sanctuaries Act provides a comprehensive authority to designate national marine sanctuaries and, subject to certain statutorily-mandated consultations, regulate and restrict activities that may damage natural resources, including all extractive and destructive activities. Regulations promulgated by NOAA under NMSA over the years generally allow extractive uses such as commercial and recreational fishing, in accordance with community-specific needs and the act’s stated purpose to “facilitate to the extent compatible with the primary objective of resource protection, all public and private uses of the resources of these marine areas.”