National Marine Sanctuary Map (credit: NOAA)
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is mostly known for managing weather satellites and making storm-warning forecasts. The environmental science agency also maintains and conducts research within a system of marine sanctuaries. The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries is the trustee for a network of reserves encompassing oceanic and Great Lakes waters from Washington to the Florida Keys and from Lake Huron to American Samoa. The national system includes 13 marine sanctuaries and 2 national monuments co-managed with other agencies. According to NOAA, across all US marine sanctuaries, nearly $8 Billion is generated annually for coastal and ocean dependent economies. Wide-ranging activities from commercial fishing, research, and recreation from tourists provide this economic support. Sustaining the marine ecosystems also sustains the local economies.
A recent research expedition to American Samoa made several wildlife discoveries in the protected marine reserve, the only one in the southern hemisphere. NOAA's Office of Ocean Exploration and Research used a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to investigate the marine diversity there. Within the Samoan coral sanctuary reef invertebrates, fishes, turtles, along with marine plants and mammals were seen. The sanctuary protects some of the oldest and largest coral heads in the world, some deep water reefs, hydrothermal vent communities, and other rare marine life. NOAA used digital video to capture this underwater diversity in the reserve:
While most Americans live far from the South Pacific, the environmental research conducted by NOAA and other national science-directed agencies provides the actual data used to maintain these ecosystems that provide so many benefits to everyone. Their work should be widely celebrated, supported, and expanded as water acidification, plastic pollution, and climate change exact a destructive toll.