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Information iconDesecheo National Wildlife Refuge, Puerto Rico. (Photo: USFWS)

Oceans cover almost three-quarters of Earth’s surface and contain about 97 percent of the planet’s water – and we are just beginning to understand how ocean creatures are interconnected with one another and with us.

While the National Wildlife Refuge System is best known for conserving land habitats, the system also conserves vast marine and coastal habitats from above the Arctic Circle to south of the equator. Coastal and marine conservation helps protect communities from flooding, storm surges, saltwater intrusion and invasive species, while providing habitat for sea turtles, marine mammals, shorebirds and fish.

Marine and coastal areas within the Refuge System provide countless opportunities for recreation. From fishing and boating to diving and wildlife viewing, there are many ways you can Make the Most of the Coast.

Coastal Wildlife Refuges

Marine Areas

The Refuge System cooperates with state and territorial governments, other federal agencies and non-governmental partners on management, research and exploration, enforcement and logistical support to manage more than 759 million acres of submerged lands and waters, primarily in marine national monuments. The Refuge System conserves  more than 150 marine protected areas that are part of a broader network of federal, state, local and tribal marine protected areas.


Information iconPalmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo: Ian Shive/USFWS)

Marine and Coastal Conservation

Cooperative conservation extends beyond federal lands to community-driven voluntary programs across a mosaic of land ownership, from private, state, and tribal to public. Through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Coastal Program and National Wetlands Coastal Grant program, experts provide coordination, technical and financial support to hundreds of partners and communities to develop solutions to local coastal conservation challenges. This collaborative approach ensures a thriving and resilient future for our nation’s coastal habitats, species and people.

The Marine Protected Areas (MPA) Federal Advisory Committee advises the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of the Interior on ways to strengthen the nation's system of MPAs. The committee includes scientists to commercial fishermen and state and tribal resource managers. Committee meetings are open to the public and provide opportunities for public comment.

Stewardship Responsibilities for Marine Species

The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) protects all marine mammals, including cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises), pinnipeds (seals and sea lions), sirenians (manatees and dugongs), sea otters and polar bears within the waters of the United States.

The act makes it illegal to “take” marine mammals without a permit. This means people may not harass, feed, hunt, capture, collect or kill any marine mammal or part of a marine mammal.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) and NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) share responsibilities for the protection, conservation and management of marine mammals under the MMPA and Endangered Species Act . The Fish and Wildlife Service works internationally  through treaties like CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) for control the import and export of all marine mammal species, and has responsibility for walrus, polar bears, sea otters, dugongs and several manatee species.

The Fish and Wildlife Service and NMFS also share federal jurisdiction for sea turtles, with the Fish and Wildlife Service having lead responsibility on the nesting beaches and the National Marine Fisheries Service leading on the marine environment. Federal responsibilities and programs include development and implementation of recovery plans, land acquisition, cooperative programs with states, consultation with other federal agencies, international cooperation; promulgation of regulations to reduce take; permitting of activities involving take; and development of habitat conservation plans.

The National Marine Fisheries Service has responsibility for seals, sea lions, cetaceans, and saltwater anadromous fish species, while the USFWS manages catadromous fish species. The Marine Mammal Commission (MMC) was later established as an independent federal agency to review and make recommendations on the policies and actions of the Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA. Coordination among these agencies is critical to providing the best management of these marine mammals. The MMC produces annual reports to Congress describing its activities and accomplishments. The Fish and Wildlife Service works closely with NOAA to monitor and protect marine mammals that haul out and breed on national wildlife refuges.

Fish and Wildlife Service
Fisheries and Aquatic Conservation (Catadromous species)
Alaska Region Marine Mammals Management
North Florida Ecological Services Office Florida manatee information
Ventura Field Office Common tern, Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo: USFWS)


Information iconNorthern harrier, Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge, Wyoming. (Photo: Tom Koerner/USFWS)