Nomination Process

For the first time in two decades, NOAA invites communities across the nation to nominate their most treasured places in our marine and Great Lakes waters for consideration as national marine sanctuaries.

In response to ongoing widespread interest from the public, NOAA has launched a new, locally driven sanctuary nomination process developed with input from more than 18,000 public comments. Throughout the nomination process, NOAA will be available to answer questions and provide guidance to nominating communities and other interested parties. NOAA will also update nominators on the progress of the agency's review of their nomination.

Actor and activist Edward James Olmos lends his voice to the new sanctuary nomination process and offers a challenge to the American people. Watch in HD

Here's how the nomination process works. As nominations are submitted, NOAA will review each one in several steps. Nominations that pass this review will be added to an inventory of areas NOAA may consider for potential designation as national marine sanctuaries.

PLEASE NOTE: Nomination is not the same thing as sanctuary designation. Designation occurs as a separate process that by law, is highly public and participatory and often takes several years to complete.

Read on for a more detailed explanation of what happens at each step in the nomination process:


Community Builds a Nomination

Every nomination starts at the community level.

A group of people who care passionately about protecting an area of our nation's marine or Great Lakes waters comes together to develop a nomination. This consists of gathering key information about the special place they wish to nominate and developing broad community support for the nomination.


Community Submits Nomination to NOAA



Submitting a nomination to NOAA is straightforward. Once the necessary information has been gathered, the community submits its nomination to NOAA via email to or by mail to: Director, NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, 1305 East West Highway, N/NMS, 11th Floor, Silver Spring, MD 20910.


NOAA's Initial Review

In our initial review, we will look at whether or not the nomination contains enough of the information we need. If the proposal does not meet the basic requirements, NOAA may decline it or send it back to the community for additional information.


Taking a Closer Look

A nomination that meets the minimum requirements will move on to the next round of review, where NOAA will take a closer look at all the different factors that make the nominated place a potential candidate for sanctuary designation. Throughout this process, NOAA will work with the community to answer any questions that arise, and NOAA may bring in external reviewers as needed.

First, we ask several questions:

Does the place have natural resources or habitat with special ecological significance?

Does the place have maritime heritage resources with special historical, cultural, archaeological significance?

Does the place have important economic uses like tourism, fishing, diving, and other recreational activities?

Do all of these things depend on conservation and management of the resources?

Then, we look for:

Opportunities for marine research, education, or partnerships;

Potential threats & impacts facing the place's marine resources;

Existing management/regulations that could help with conservation efforts; and

Importantly, broad community-based support.

During this step, NOAA will engage any relevant tribal, state, or Federal entities. Then, NOAA will either accept the nomination, request additional information, or decline the nomination.


Nomination Is Accepted

When a nomination successfully passes the review phase, NOAA will notify the community that all the requirements have been met and the nomination has been accepted.


Nominated Area Added to Inventory

As mentioned above, NOAA will place successful nominations in an inventory of areas it could consider for potential designation as a national marine sanctuary.

PLEASE NOTE: Addition to the inventory does not guarantee that a nominated area will become a sanctuary.

Future Sanctuary Designation

NOAA may consider an area added to the inventory for future designation as a national marine sanctuary. Sanctuary designation is a separate public process that by law, is highly public and participatory, and often takes several years to complete.