Explore More of Our National Marine Sanctuaries

Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary
By Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary Staff

Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary off the outer Washington coast is the site of rich upwelling currents, making it one of the most productive marine ecosystems on the planet. Within the 3,189 square miles of sanctuary waters are a host of impressive diving habitats including more than 150 documented shipwrecks (most reside at depths beyond a diver's reach), rocky reefs, kelp forests, and sea stacks that are home to abundant marine life such as gray and humpback whales, otters, salmon and rockfish.

On a typical dive, common sights include numerous species of colorful and varied marine invertebrates, rockfish, ling cod, greenling, wolf eels and the great Pacific octopus between canopy kelp and lush understory algae. Lucky divers may observe pinnipeds, sea otters and diving seabirds foraging for food. With average temperatures in the 50s and visibility ranging from 15 to 60 feet, the sanctuary boasts some of the best cold-water diving in the U.S. September offers the most consistent weather and diminished upwelling during that time of year provides better visibility. Advanced skills and extensive experience is required to deal with the challenging conditions of this high-energy environment with swell, strong currents, open water and limited visibility.
Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary
By Mary Jane Schramm

Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary just outside San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge boasts some of the most beautiful, dynamically productive and awe-inspiring marine waters in the world. The sanctuary is home to humpbacks, blue whales, albatross and the world's largest breeding colony of seabirds in the contiguous United States. Combined with vast tracts of sandy beach stretching for miles north and south, the Farallones offer excellent wildlife viewing and surfing.

While the expanses of open beaches and large waves are a strong lure to surfers, this coastline lacks the coves that make for preferred dive conditions. Understandably, the sanctuary's strong currents, cold murky waters and large white shark population give many divers pause. These conditions present safety challenges for cage-free diving, even in nearshore mainland waters, since white sharks may hug the coast before ranging offshore to visit the waters around the Farallon Islands , a popular white shark hunting spot. White sharks have been seen here in every month of the year, but their presence spikes in the fall coinciding with the arrival of young elephant seals. As a result, an industry has grown around cage diving at the islands.

California's system of marine protected areas has instituted special closures around some islands, headlands and promontories especially rich in wildlife, but vulnerable to human impacts. Prior to exploring these areas, check site maps and access regulations.

In order to prevent disturbance to this vital white shark population – they are nearly all of breeding age – the Farallones sanctuary recently enacted legislation banning their attraction or approach, and established the White Shark Stewardship Program. In addition to putting protection measures in place, this program strives to educate people about this apex predator and the challenges it faces for survival.
Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument
By Toni Parras and Andy Collins

Juvenile reef fishes find shelter in deep reef algal beds within Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument and World Heritage Site has some of the healthiest and most extensive coral reefs in the United States. It is the largest marine protected area in the country and one of the largest in the world, encompassing nearly 140,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands – an area larger than all of United States' national parks combined. The extensive coral reefs found within the monument are home to more than 7,000 marine species, one-quarter of which are not found anywhere else on Earth. Papahanaumokuakea's waters also contain numerous historical and cultural artifacts, and the area has great cultural significance to Native Hawaiians.

Deputy Superintendent Randy Kosaki examines black coral on a deep
reef in Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.
To preserve the nearly pristine ecosystems of Papahanaumokuakea, general access is only granted by permit and scuba diving is limited to research and educational purposes. While this underwater treasure is not accessible by recreational divers, there are many ways to experience its wonders from afar. At the Mokupapapa Discovery Center, the monument's 4,000-square-foot facility in Hilo, Hawaii, visitors can experience a virtual dive into the waters of Papahanaumokuakea. The Waikiki Aquarium in Honolulu features a tank with coral and fish only found in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Finally, pictures and videos of this unique underwater realm can be seen on the Papahanaumokuakea website. To learn how to pronounce the name of this treasured sanctuary, click here.
Learn More
Our National Marine Sanctuaries
National Marine Sanctuaries Gallery
History Above and Below the Waves
Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, Texas
Pennekamp Park
Humpback Whale Protection
A Call to Action for Divers to Support Our Nation's Sanctuaries