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The History and Evolution of the National Marine Sanctuaries Act

June 2004

Citation: ELR 10505

Author: William J. Chandler and Hannah Gillelan

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.

William Chandler is Vice President of the Marine Conservation Biology Institute of Redmond, Washington, and director of its Washington, D.C., office. He is a Master in Government candidate at Johns Hopkins University and a graduate of Stanford University. Hannah Gillelan is Ocean Policy Analyst at Marine Conservation Biology Institute, having received her J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center in 2000 and her B.A. from St. John's College. The authors wish to thank a number of individuals who reviewed all or portions of this manuscript and made helpful suggestions. They are grateful to Brad Barr, David Festa, Chris Mann, Amy Mathews-Amos, Edward McMahon, Lance Morgan, Douglas Scott, Diane Thompson, and Michael Weber, amongst others, for their insights. In addition, they wish to acknowledge the research assistance of Susannah Lapping.

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