Sanctuary History

Whale jumping out of the water
A reliable whale population, an active whale watch industry, and a supportive whale watch public contributed to the advancement of the nomination of Stellwagen Bank for national marine sanctuary status. Photo: Jeremy Winn (NOAA Fisheries Permit #605-1904)

Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary celebrates the anniversary of its designation every year on November 4. On that day in 1992, the legislation reauthorizing and amending Title III of the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA) was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush. Section 2202 of that law designated Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary – the first national marine sanctuary in New England. The law established a sanctuary boundary; prohibited the exploration for and mining of sand and gravel and other minerals in the sanctuary; and established several other regulations. Learn more about sanctuary regulations.

Stellwagen Bank was first nominated for consideration 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 it chooses 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) and started gathering public comments and preparing a draft environmental impact statement and management plan. These documents were published on February 8, 1991. During the comment period, a series of public hearings were held, 860 written comments were submitted, and NOAA received more than 20,000 petitions signed by people showing support for the designation of Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. On November 4, 1992, a new sanctuary joined the system.

Follow the sanctuary's progress in the 1993 and 2010 Management Plans and look for our next management plan, coming soon.

Learn about the discovery of the bank in our Heritage section.

For more on the history of the sanctuary campus, visit our Facility section.

The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries website provides more information about sanctuary designations and expansions and the National Marine Sanctuaries Act.