U.S. Policy, Legislation and Programs

National Marine Sanctuaries Act of 1972: The National Marine Sanctuaries Act (also known as Title III of the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act of 1972; the Act or NMSA) authorizes the Secretary of Commerce to designate and manage areas of the marine environment with special national significance due to their conservation (and other) qualities as National Marine Sanctuaries. “The Act allows the Secretary of Commerce to designate any discrete area of the marine environment as a National Marine Sanctuary if the Secretary finds the … site is of special national significance due to its conservation, recreational, ecological, historical, scientific, cultural, archeological, educational, or esthetic qualities; the communities of living marine resources it harbors; or its resource or human-use values.”  The Act also provides the necessary tools for protecting the designated marine areas, such as restricting potentially damaging federal action, implementing site-specific regulations to enumerate types of activities that cannot be conducted within the Sanctuary, and assessing penalties and recovering damages for the destruction or loss of Sanctuary resources. Since the Act was enacted in 1972, it has been amended and reauthorized in 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, and 2000, to modify the process of how sites are designated, to allow issuance of special use permits, to enhance the ability to enforce the Act, and to establish civil liability for injury to Sanctuary resources.

Source: National Ocean Service, Marine Sanctuaries Program www.sanctuaries.nos.noaa.gov

Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) and CZMA Reauthorization Amendments of 1990:  The Coastal Zone Management Act provides a mandate for coastal states to integrate the management of multiple uses of coastal lands and waters under a single state entity.  Management of coastal waters to three miles offshore is under the jurisdiction of state coastal zone management authorities.  The Act makes significant attempts to ensure that state management is harmonious with federal management of contiguous waters from 3 to 12 miles offshore.  The 1990 Reauthorization stipulated that state coastal programs and state pollution control programs address non-point sources of pollution that affect coastal water quality. This includes marine nursery areas, particularly those that are downstream recipients of pollution.

Source: Pace, M.L. and P.M. Groffman. 1998. Successes, Limitations, and Frontiers in Ecosystem Science. Springer Press

Clean Water Acts of 1972 and 2000 and Amendments of 1987:  According to the Environmental Law Handbook, the original Clean Water Act of 1972 is one of the most successful environmental policies in history.  The Act was created to restore and maintain the physical, chemical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waters. By mandating the elimination of pollutant discharge into surface waters, the Act strives to achieve a level of water quality that “provides for the protection and propagation of fish, shellfish and wildlife”. Protecting marine nurseries from degradation is thus a major objective of the 1972 Clean Water Act. Clean Water Act amendments in 1987 provided legislation for the creation of the National Estuarine Program.  The National Estuary Program was established to identify, restore, and protect nationally significant estuaries of the United States. The Clean Water Act was newly issued in 2000. This new legislation makes restoring the nation’s estuaries a national priority and funds community-based estuary restoration projects. Reauthorization of EPA's National Estuary Program is included, with funds for estuary management in addition to planning. The core of the bill establishes a five-year program through which the federal government will promote and track estuary restoration.

Source: Environmental Law Handbook. Government Institutes, Inc. Rockville, MD; EPA www.epa.gov

North American Wetlands Conservation Act of 1989 and the Emergency Wetlands Resources Act of 1986: North American Wetlands Conservation Act (103 Stat. 1968; 16 U.S.C. 4401-4412) -- Public Law 101-233, was enacted December 13, 1989 to provide funding and administrative direction for implementation of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan and the Tripartite Agreement on wetlands between Canada, U.S. and Mexico. Available funds (a minimum of $15 million in annual appropriations plus additional funds derived from levies and fines) may be expended, upon approval of the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission, for payment of not to exceed 50 percent of the United States share of the cost of wetlands conservation projects in Canada, Mexico, or the United States (or 100 percent of the cost of projects on Federal lands). At least 50 percent and no more than 70 percent of the funds received are to go to Canada and Mexico each year. The projects aim in part to protect and restore coastal waterfowl habitat, many of which include key nursery areas.  The Emergency Wetlands Resources Act of 1986 contains within it the National Wetlands Priority Conservation Plan, which requires states to include wetlands in their Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plans.  The bill authorizes purchase of wetlands, including coastal wetlands, for the purposes of conservation using Land and Water Conservation Funds.

Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service http://www.fws.gov/laws/lawsdigest/NAWCACT.HTML

Conservation Reserve Program:  The Conservation Reserve Program that was passed as part of the 1985 Farm Bill (Food Security Act) targets the control of erosion in croplands.  Amendments to the Farm Bill passed in April of 2002 were said to significantly strengthen the conservation provisions of the legislation, but the actual outcome remain to be seen.

Source: Pace, M.L. and P.M. Groffman. 1998. Successes, Limitations, and Frontiers in Ecosystem Science. Springer Press

Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976 and its reauthorizations, namely the Sustainable Fisheries Act of 1996 and Fisheries Recovery Act of 2001: The Magnuson Stevens Act, formerly known as the FCMA, is crucial federal legislation aimed at developing and implementing management plans for key marine fisheries of the US.  The Act established regional fisheries management councils to assess the best available scientific information on the sustainability of marine fisheries, and each council works independently to implement management plans. The most pertinent provision of Magnuson-Stevens’ subsequent reauthorizations for marine nurseries is the mandate to identify and protect essential fish habitat for all stocks for which federal management plans are developed.

Marine Protected Area Executive Order 13158: President Clinton issued this Executive Order in May 2000 to mandate federal and state agencies to work more closely together in protecting marine habitats and resources through marine protected areas (MPAs).  This non-binding order defines an MPA as "any area of the marine environment that has been reserved by Federal, State, territorial, tribal or local laws or regulations to provide lasting protection for part or all of the natural and cultural resources therein.  MPAs covered by this initiative range from areas closed to public access, such as Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Key Largo, Florida; to sites that permit access but do not allow consumptive uses, such as Edmonds Underwater Park in Washington; to areas where the use of specific types of fishing gear is restricted, such as certain fishery management areas; and to multiple-use areas, such as the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. MPAs covered by this Executive Order already safeguard many of the nation’s important marine nurseries, such as the near-shore Bristol Bay fishery closure area off Alaska that protects king crab aggregations and the Virgin Islands National Park that protects coral reef habitat and sea-turtle nesting areas.

Source: Federal Register 2000 Presidential Documents. Executive Order 13158 of May 26, 2000. Volume 65, No. 105. May 31, 2000. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office; Code of Federal Regulations. 50 CFR 622.35(c); MPA www.mpa.gov

National Invasive Species Act of 1996, Non-Indigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act of 1990, and National Aquatic Invasive Species Act of 2002 These pieces of federal legislation are designed to identify and label species as invasives, monitor their spread, and take specific actions to control introduced species and prevent future alien species introductions whenever possible.  The flurry of legislative activity came largely as a response to assessment of the zebra mussel invasion in American waterways, and the enormous costs associated with it.

U.S. Coral Reef Task Force and National Action Plan for Coral Reefs: The U.S. Coral Reef Task Force was established by the Executive Order on Coral Reef Protection issued by President Clinton on June 11, 1998 during the National Ocean Conference in Monterey, California.  In 2000, the Coral Reef Task Force adopted a National Action Plan for Coral Reefs, designed to be the nation's roadmap to more effectively understand coral reef ecosystems and reduce the adverse impacts of human activities. Responding to the urgency of the coral reef situation, the new plan draws on the expertise and commitment of hundreds of public and private stakeholders. The plan calls for: designating 20 percent of all U.S. coral reefs as no-take ecological reserves by 2010, mapping all U.S. coral reefs by 2009, building an integrated national reef monitoring system that profiles and tracks the healthy of U.S. coral reefs, and developing an All-Islands Coral Reef Initiative to address the highest priorities of U.S. state and territorial islands.

Source: NOAA public affairs office http://www.publicaffairs.noaa.gov/releases2000/mar00/noaa00012.html

Other Federal Laws Regulating Marine Debris Discharge

In addition to complying with MARPOL (see below), the U.S. has several pieces of legislation aimed at protecting nearshore marine waters from pollution discharges, including the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, Dumping of Medical Waste by Public Vessels, and Shore Protection from Municipal or Commercial Waste.

Source: Cornell Law School http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/33

Other Federal Laws with Applicability to Nurseries

  • The North American Wetlands Conservation Act 1989
  • Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act 1976
  • Sustainable Fisheries Act 1996
  • Fisheries Recovery Act 2001
  • National Invasive Species Act 1996
  • Non-indigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act 1990
  • National Aquatic Invasive Species Act 2002
  • Salmon Planning Act 2002

Examples of Local and Regional Programs in the U.S.

Chesapeake Bay Program. The Chesapeake Bay Program is a unique regional partnership made possible by the 1987 Chesapeake Bay Agreement, an act of legislation that allowed the states, federal government, and citizens groups to band together to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay.  The Program is led by the Chesapeake Executive Council, whose members include the governors of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania; the mayor of the District of Columbia; the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the chair of the Chesapeake Bay Commission. In the 1987 Chesapeake Bay Agreement, the Council set a goal to reduce the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorous entering the Bay by 40% by 2000, with the aim of ultimately improving the oxygen levels in Bay waters and encourage aquatic life to flourish. In 1992, the Bay Program partners agreed to continue the 40% reduction goal beyond 2000 as well as to attack nutrients at their source - upstream in the Bay's tributaries. As a result, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia began developing what are known as Tributary Strategies to achieve nutrient reduction targets. On June 28, 2000, the Chesapeake Bay Program partners signed the new Chesapeake 2000Agreement, which will guide the next decade of restoration and protection efforts throughout the Bay watershed. The agreement commits to protecting and restoring living resources, vital habitats and water quality of the Bay and its watershed.

 Source: Chesapeake Bay Program  www.chesapeakebay.net

Save The Bay (Narragansett Bay). Save the Bay’s mission is to ensure that the environmental quality of the Narragansett Bay (Rhode Island) and its watershed is restored and protected from the harmful effects of human activity. Save the Bay was established in 1970 to harness community interest in Narragansett Bay towards coordinated and comprehensive protection of this extensive and valuable estuarine region.  Its initial formation came in response to proposed development activities that many Rhode Island residents felt would threaten critical habitats within the Bay (mostly nursery habitats), potentially undermining sport and commercial fisheries and recreational opportunities. Membership grew quickly as research showed that the majority of historic eelgrass beds had been destroyed and nearly half of the salt marshes and fish runs were lost. Save the Bay has been credited with the Bay’s turnaround in health and in habitat loss by galvanizing public attention and private funds.  Save the Bay utilizes public outreach and education to build membership and keep that membership informed. In addition, it spearheads actual restoration efforts, such as the recent effort using 212 volunteers to transplant 21,000 eelgrass plants at three former nursery sites within the Bay.

Source: Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Save the Bay www.savethebay.org

Long Island Soundkeeper.  The Long Island Sound Soundkeeper Program is an innovative program that performs a valuable watchdog function across a wide coastal area shared by two states (New York and Connecticut) and 78 coastal cities.  The Soundkeeper Program was launched in 1987. It has successfully sued to reduce the hazardous waste escaping from sewage treatment facilities in Norwalk, Bridgeport, Stratford, and Greenwich, stopped sandblasting of lead paint from watershed bridges forcing adoption of containment procedures, and played a vital role in the ongoing restoration of the state’s public shellfish beds, restoring over 3,000 acres in the last six years.  Its top priorities continue to be: 1) upgrading sewage treatment plants; 2) protecting and restoring fragile wetlands (“the mother of all marine species”); 3) preventing polluted run-off from farms, industry and streets; 4) making polluters accountable for clean-up and restoration; 5) protecting fish and fishing; 6) protecting the right to sue polluters; 7) guaranteeing continued access to the Sound for swimming, boating, and fishing; 8) promoting Sound-friendly products -- fertilizers, detergents, etc.; 9) fixing broken down storm sewers and waste systems to reduce risks of beach and shellfish bed closings after heavy rains; and 10) stopping careless disposal of motor oil and other garbage that fouls beaches (and critical nursery habitats) and kills fish as well as other marine life.

Source: Soundkeeper www.soundkeeper.org

International Treaties, Agreements and Programs

Convention on Biological Diversity: The Convention on Biological Diversity makes specific mention of protection of critical habitat, including nursery areas, as a way to safeguard biodiversity.  Article 8.c concerns managing biological resources for conservation and sustainable use, while article 8.a,e describes the establishment of systems of protected areas and buffer zones.  The sections pertaining to regulating harm to biodiversity also contain relevant provisions on regulating harmful activities and preventing and controlling introductions of harmful alien species (articles 8.1 and article 8h).  There are presently 186 parties to the Convention, 168 who have signed it, however though the U.S. signed the treaty in 1993, it has still not ratified the agreement.

Sources: DeFontaubert, C., D. Downes, and T. Agardy. 1996. Biodiversity in the Seas. IUCN Environmental Policy and Law Paper 32. Gland, Switzerland, and Island Press, Washington, DC; and www.biodiv.org;

U.N. Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS): The 1982 Law of the Sea Convention entered into force in November of 1994, and currently has 157 parties. The treaty contains several provisions relating to coastal and marine habitat protection, including the safeguarding of nursery areas.  Articles 61.2 and 62.4 provide that coastal states “shall ensure through proper conservation and management measures that the maintenance of the living resources of the EEZ is not endangered by over-exploitation”.  The U.S. has not ratified the Law of the Sea Convention, although it has signed the 1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement that emerged out of UNCLOS negotiations. The latter agreement has even more specific provisions relating to conservation of nursery habitat for fish stocks that straddle national jurisdictions.

Source: DeFontaubert, C., D. Downes, and T. Agardy. 1996. Biodiversity in the Seas. IUCN Environmental Policy and Law Paper 32. Gland, Switzerland, and Island Press, Washington, DC; http://www.un.org/Depts/los/index.htm

MARPOL -International Treaty on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Ships: MARPOL 73/78, the international treaty regulating disposal of wastes generated by normal operation of vessels, has been signed and ratified by 161 countries (as of December 2001), including the United States. MARPOL 73/78 is implemented in the U.S. by the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, under the lead of the U.S. Coast Guard. The treaty consists of 20 Articles and 5 Annexes. A 1978 protocol contains modifications to the original 1973 treaty text. MARPOL has binding provisions for parties on discharge of oil and noxious liquids at sea, and non-binding provisions on pollution by harmful substances carried in package form, sewage from ships, garbage from ships, and air emissions.

Source: http://www.imo.org/conventions/contents.asp?doc_id=678&topic_id=258

International Maritime Organization’s Sensitive Sea Areas Designations: The International Maritime Organization (IMO), a specialized United Nations Agency responsible for multilateral agreements relating to international shipping, has initiated a program designating “Sensitive Sea Areas” (SSAs) to flag particularly vulnerable and important marine areas and restrict some shipping activities within them.  Sensitive Sea Areas adopted by the IMO include the Great Barrier Reef in Australia; the Sabana-Camaguey Archipelago of Cuba; Malepo Island, Colombia; the Wadden Sea shared by Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands; and, as of December 1, 2001, the Florida Keys. The designation means that ships greater than 50 meters in length that enter the area will be held to internationally accepted and enforced rules, including restrictions on transiting certain zones and prohibitions on anchoring in three areas within SSA. Sensitive Sea Areas are marked on all international nautical charts and recognized by all maritime nations.  In the case of the new SSA in Florida, the designation will help to reduce groundings and anchor damage in the vulnerable, and valuable, reef ecosystem. Over 40% of international maritime commerce passes through the Florida Straits every year, and more than two dozen groundings on the Florida Keys reef ecosystem have occurred since 1984. In addition, the past five years witnessed some 17 large scale anchor damage events within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Source: NOAA http://www.noaa.gov

Other international conventions:

  • The Rome Consensus on World Fisheries, adopted by the FAO Ministerial Conference on Fisheries, Rome, 14-15 March 1995
  • Oslo Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping from Ships or Aircraft 1972

International Coastal Clean Up: The International Coastal Cleanup is an annual, global project coordinated by the Ocean Conservancy (formerly the Center for Marine Conservation) and supported by an international network of environmental and civic organizations, government agencies, industries, and individuals. U.S. EPA is among the many sponsors of this event. The goals of the Coastal Cleanup Campaign include removing debris from the shorelines, waterways, underwater sites, and beaches, collecting data in a consistent manner on the amount and types of debris, and educating people on the issues surrounding marine debris and marine pollution. Information collected during the cleanup each year is compared to previous years' cleanup data, and used to report on trends in marine debris. Volunteer participants learn about the sources of marine debris, how prevalent it is, and how they can help prevent the problem.

Source: EPA www.epa.gov ; Ocean Conservancy www.oceanconservancy.org

Global Program of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land Based Activities: The GPA is designed to be a source of conceptual and practical guidance to be drawn upon by national and/or regional authorities for devising and implementing sustained action to prevent, reduce, control and/or eliminate marine degradation from land-based activities. The GPA aims to prevent the degradation of the marine environment from land-based activities by facilitating the duty of States to preserve and protect the marine environment. The comprehensive, multi-sectoral approach of the GPA reflects the desire of Governments to strengthen the collaboration and coordination of all agencies with mandates relevant to the impact of land-based activities on the marine environment, through their participation in a global program.  The European Commission and 108 governments have declared their commitment to protect and preserve the marine environment from the adverse environmental impacts of land-based activities by joining the GPA. The Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities and the Washington Declaration was adopted in 1995. UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) leads the coordination effort through its GPA Coordination Office.

Source: UNEP http://www.gpa.unep.org

UNEP Regional Seas Programme:  The Regional Seas Programmes of the United Nations Environment Programme have specific, binding protocols developed out of the individuals regional seas agreements. For instance, the Cartagena Convention describing the Regional Seas agreement for the Caribbean has a specific protocol on Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (as well as another, separate protocol on Land-Based Sources of Pollution).  These protocols identify specific sites of conservation importance, including marine nursery areas.

Source: DeFontaubert, C. and T. Agardy. 1996. Implementing the protocol on specially protected areas and wildlife of the Cartagena Convention. Georgetown International Environmental Law Review 10(3):753-