The National Marine Sanctuary Program was established by Title III of the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act of 1972. The Marine Sanctuary Act authorizes the Secretary of Commerce to designate discrete marine areas of special national significance as national marine sanctuaries. The purpose is to promote comprehensive long-term management of their conservation, recreational, ecological, historical, research, educational, or aesthetic values. National marine sanctuaries may be designated in those areas of coastal and ocean waters, the Great Lakes and their connecting waters, and submerged lands over which the United State exercises jurisdiction, consistent with international law. National marine sanctuaries are built around the existence of distinctive natural and cultural resources whose protection and beneficial use require comprehensive planning and management. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Ocean Service (NOS) administers the National Marine Sanctuary Program (NMSP).
Establishment of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary
On October 7, 1992, Congress passed legislation reauthorizing and amending Title III of the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA). This legislation was signed into law on November 4, 1992. Section 2202 of that law designated the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Further, it established a sanctuary boundary; prohibited the exploration for and mining of sand and gravel and other minerals in the sanctuary; required consultation with the Secretary of Commerce by Federal agencies proposing agency actions in the vicinity of the sanctuary that may affect sanctuary resources; authorized funding levels for fiscal years 1993 and 1994; and directed the Secretary of Commerce to consider the establishment of a satellite sanctuary office.
Over a decade of effort culminated in the designation of Stellwagen Bank as New England's first and the nation's 12th National Marine Sanctuary (this list included two small sanctuaries in the Florida Keys that are now part of the larger Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary). Now, 13 sanctuaries and one marine national monument make up this system of important marine protected areas. Stellwagen Bank was first nominated for consideration as a national marine sanctuary in 1982 by the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Massachusetts and the Defenders of Wildlife in Washington, D.C. The following year NOAA added Stellwagen Bank to its "Site Evaluation List" from which NOAA chooses ocean areas as active candidates for designation as national marine sanctuaries.
NOAA elevated the Stellwagen Bank proposal to Active Candidate
status on April 19, 1989 (54 FR 15787). This was done in response
to a requirement in the 1988 amendments to the National Marine
Sanctuary Program that a prospectus on the Stellwagen Bank proposal
be submitted to Congress by September 30, 1990 (P.L. 100-627,
s. 205(b)(1)). NOAA commenced gathering public comment and prepared
the Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Management Plan and
the Prospectus to Congress. These were published on February
8, 1991, initiating a 60-day public comment period and a 45-day
Congressional review period. During the comment period, a series
of public hearings was held, 860 written comments were submitted,
and petitions signed by more than 20,000 persons supporting
designation of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary
were received by NOAA (Sanctuaries and Reserves Division, 1993).