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The Marine Sanctuaries Program: A Framework for Critical Areas Management in the Sea

March 1978

Citation: ELR 50016

Author: Michael C. Blumm and Joel G. Blumstein

The search for a viable national policy toward the marine environment has been an elusive one. For more than a decade Congress has been calling for a "balanced" and "comprehensive" approach to the management of the nation's marine resources.1 As attempts continue in the 95th Congress to elucidate and implement such a national policy,2 a nearly forgotten federal program is rising like a phoenix from the ashes of bureaucratic obscurity to play a potentially prominent role in assuring that the nation's approach to its marine resources is both comprehensive and balanced. Established over five years ago by Title III of the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act of 1972 (MPRSA),3 but largely ignored until the recent recognition given to it by President Carter in his Environmental Message,4 the Department of Commerce's marine sanctuaries program provides a means of comprehensively managing marine activities by designating and assuring the protection of marine areas of environmental value.

Of course, Title III of the MPRSA is not the only congressional initiative aimed at controlling the allocation of marine resources. Increasing competition for the utilization of these resources has precipitated a flurry of legislative activity in recent years. Perhaps, the best starting point for understanding the potential of the marine sanctuaries program is to highlight this intensifying competition and the congressional reactions it has fostered. For example, the use of the marine environment as a national sink for the disposal of waste products, such as sewage sludge, industrial wastes, and dredge and fill materials,5 has resulted in the enactment of legislation designed to control marine pollution.6 Similarly, a growing dependence on the waters off the United States' coasts as a major source of the world's food supply7 led to an extension of the nation's jurisdiction over its offshore fisheries.8 Likewise, increasing exploitation of oil and gas reserves on the outer continental shelf9 prompted a complete reexamination of the federal government's mineral leasing system.10 And the anticipated reliance on the sea to support energy facilities, such as deepwater ports, liquified natural gas terminals, and floating nuclear power plants,11 has led to federal studies and legislation aimed at providing for the efficient and safe siting of these facilities.12

Mr. Blumm (B.A. 1972, Williams College; J.D. 1976, L.L.M. in Natural Resources Law, to be awarded 1978, George Washington University) is a staff attorney for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. At the time this Article was written, the author served as Assistant Director of Law, Center for Natural Areas.

Mr. Blumstein (B.A. 1975, University of Pennsylvania; J.D. expected 1978, George Washington University) is a legal assistant at the Center for Natural Areas.

The authors wish to acknowledge the assistance of their colleagues at the Center for Natural Areas: John Epting, David Laist, Stark Ackerman, and John Noble. The Center for Natural Areas is a nonprofit research corporation specializing in environmental management from an interdisciplinary perspective.

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