Dive into the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary

Dive into the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary

You’re probably familiar with Olympic National Park, as well as Olympic National Forest, and the important role they play in protecting our wilderness areas. But did you know there is also a National Marine Sanctuary system, preserving and caring for a network of 16 underwater parks across the United States? And did you know that the Olympic Peninsula is home to one of those, the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, protecting our precious coastal waters and beaches? Read on to learn more and dive into the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.

OCNMS Map - Dive into the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary

3,188 square miles—that’s the surface area covered by the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (OCNMS). On any given day, the dedicated sanctuary staff fulfills its equally broad mission through countless education, outreach, resource protection, and research efforts.

Size and Mission of OCNMS

Since 1994, the OCNMS has safeguarded approximately 135 miles of rugged coastline along Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula. The boundary of this marine ecosystem extends 25 to 45 miles seaward from north of Neah Bay’s Cape Flattery to south of Copalis Beach near Ocean Shores. (For comparison OCNMS is over 8½ times the size of Mount Rainier National Park!)

The sanctuary covers much of Washington’s continental shelf. This includes several major submarine canyons, providing a haven for over 400 species of marine mammals, seabirds, fish, kelp forests, and diverse invertebrate sea life.

The OCNMS’ mission is to protect the Olympic Coast’s natural and cultural resources through responsible stewardship, to conduct and apply research to preserve the area’s ecological integrity and maritime herniate, and to promote understanding through public outreach and education.

tufted penguins
Tufted Puffins

30th Anniversary Celebration of Sanctuary Events

The sanctuary was designated by NOAA in July 1994. The 30th Anniversary Celebration of the sanctuary will be observed July 26 and 27, 2024, along the waterfront in Port Angeles. EVERYONE is invited! The celebration offers an opportunity for people to learn about the organization’s multi-faceted mission with exciting learning activities for all ages. Highlights include:

  • Friday, July 26: Learn about the sanctuary from staff and volunteers from 5 to 9 pm at Field Arts & Events Hall in the Sunset Lounge. Kids will love “Big Mama,” the life-sized inflatable humpback whale. Watch ocean-themed films in the Donna Morris Theater.
  • Saturday, July 27: Enjoy ocean-themed activities with the sanctuary and partners from 10 am to 2 pm at the future site of the Marine Discovery Center.

For full event details, visit Special Events | Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.

Dive into the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary at the Olympic Coast Discovery Center.
Olympic Coast Discovery Center

Meet Key Personnel – Chris Butler-Minor

Chris Butler-Minor is a NOAA affiliate leading Community Engagement, Education, and Outreach, entering her seventh summer with OCNMS. Chris’ journey began in pursuing and volunteering for environmental restoration projects. This path introduced her to the Olympic Coast and the Hoh Rain Forest. She had a deep desire to study environmental policy and science. During that time, she earned her Masters of Environmental Management degree and a fulfilling career providing leadership for OCNMS.

Intertidal work - Dive into the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary
Intertidal work

Education and Outreach

Public awareness of natural and cultural resources is central to the sanctuary’s mission. Education and outreach programs include place-based activities, career-building opportunities, and high-quality educational experiences.

Research Vessel
Research Vessel – Storm Petrel

OCNMS annually reaches thousands of people at festivals, beach cleanup events, and visitors at the Port Angeles-based visitor center—the Olympic Coast Discovery Center. The team also offers educational programs on ocean food webs, marine debris, and humpback whales using a life-sized inflatable model of “Big Mama”—a real humpback who has visited OCNMS for decades.

Big Mama inflatable model - Dive into the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary
Big Mama inflatable model

Looking Ahead

The next 30 years of OCNMS will be guided by an updated management plan, outlining priorities for the next 5-10 years. After months of public meetings and collaboration with the sanctuary’s Advisory Council and the Intergovernmental Policy Council, the final guidance document will help steer the sanctuary’s future.

Rendering of Port Angeles Marine Discovery Center
Rendering of the future Port Angeles Marine Discovery Center

Dive into the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary today and learn more at olympiccoast.noaa.gov.

Contributing Guest Bloggers: Chris Butler-Minor, OCNMS and Steve Shively OCNMS Advisory Council Executive

Click HERE for upcoming events on the Olympic Peninsula.

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