photo of volunteers with binoculars

Volunteers help to ensure national marine sanctuaries remain America's underwater treasures for future generations. These volunteers participate in a wide variety of activities including diving, whale identification, beach cleanups, water quality monitoring, collecting field observations and surveys, acting as visitor center docents, and wildlife monitoring.

National marine sanctuary volunteers work in close collaboration with many other groups in their local communities including non-profits, boat operators, academic institutions, federal agencies, tribal agencies, researchers and many more.

Program History

The NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries volunteer program began in the mid-1990s with the development of Beach Watch and Team OCEAN at Gulf of the Farallones and Florida Keys national marine sanctuaries, respectively. Today, volunteers are an integral part of many sanctuary programs, contributing invaluable time and energy across the sanctuary system. The diverse skills, knowledge and support they provide help expand the reach of the national marine sanctuaries and build on the work of sanctuary staff.

Strength in Numbers

Sanctuary volunteers are a vital and powerful force contributing significantly to the success of the sanctuary system.

  • In 2023, national marine sanctuary volunteers contributed 74,366 hours across the system, which is equivalent to 41 full-time federal employees.
  • Sanctuary volunteers contributed $2.4M to the sanctuary system last year (calculated using the non-profit organization Independent Sector's 2023 estimated value of volunteer time of $31.80 per hour).
  • In 2023, 4,753 of these volunteers specifically supported citizen science efforts helping to answer real-world scientific questions with a total of 36,020 hours.

Citizen Science

Citizen science is a term that describes projects in which volunteers partner with scientists to answer real-world questions. These volunteers can work with scientists to identify research questions, collect and analyze data, interpret results, make new discoveries, develop technologies and applications, as well as solve complex problems. Learn more about national marine sanctuary projects that rely on the support of citizen scientist volunteers.

National Recognition

Since 2003, the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and National Marine Sanctuary Foundation have recognized the important work of volunteers around the country and annually named one as Volunteer of the Year.

people with binoculars on the beach
Beach Watch volunteers survey their as-signed beach while participating in a long-term shoreline monitoring program founded by Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary off San Francisco. Photo: NOAA

The Future of Volunteers

Volunteer programs continue to grow around the sanctuary system, and the total number of hours contributed rise every year. The NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries continues to expand and improve the volunteer program through increased awareness and better collaboration between sanctuary sites and with other federal and state partners.