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The History and Evolution of the National Marine Sanctuaries Act


June 2004








Executive Summary

Coastal and ocean degradation caused by pollution, industrial and commercial development, and ocean dumping became major environmental issues in the 1960s and early 1970s. Public awareness of ocean problems was heightened by oil spills, "dead seas" created by the dumping of dredge spoil and sewage sludge, and numerous scientific reports detailing the environmental decline of coastal areas. In response, the U.S. Congress considered and approved a number of remedial measures to protect coasts and estuaries including federal assistance to states to develop coastal zone management plans, new water pollution and ocean dumping controls, and the creation of programs to establish estuarine and marine sanctuaries.

The Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA) of 1972 authorized a trio of programs to protect and restore ocean ecosystems. The Act regulated the dumping of wastes in ocean waters, launched a study of the longterm impacts of humans on marine ecosystems, and created a Marine Sanctuaries Program for the "purpose of preserving or restoring [marine] areas for their conservation, recreational, ecological, or esthetic values." Early proponents of marine sanctuaries envisioned a system of protected ocean areas analogous to those established for national parks and wilderness areas.