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 2022, national marine sanctuary volunteers contributed 57,223 hours across the system, which is equivalent to 31 full-time federal employees.
  • Sanctuary volunteers contributed $1.7M to the sanctuary system last year (calculated using the non-profit organization Independent Sector's 2022 estimated value of volunteer time of $29.95 per hour).
  • In 2022, 3,162 of these volunteers specifically supported citizen science efforts helping to answer real-world scientific questions with a total of 31,063 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.

Take Pride in America Awards

Take Pride in America is a nationwide partnership program authorized by Congress to promote appreciation and stewardship of public lands. In 2011, the Channel Islands Naturalist Corps received the Take Pride in America Outstanding Federal Volunteer Program Award. This joint effort by Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and Channel Islands National Park, was recognized for coordinating more than 140 volunteers who are specially-trained to educate visitors. Each year these naturalists reach more than 500,000 people attending whale-watch tours, island hikes and community events.

Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary's Ocean Count project was named Take Pride in America Outstanding Federal Volunteer Program for 2012. The project has grown from 150 volunteers in 1996 to more than 2,300 volunteers in 2014. Volunteers count whales and record their behavior from more than 60 locations across the islands of O'ahu, Kaua'i and Hawai'i. Over the past 17 years, more than 20,000 volunteers have contributed 100,000 hours of time.

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.

Volunteer at the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries Headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland

What We Offer

We invite you to join a dedicated and enthusiastic team at the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, where you will gain valuable resume-building experience and an insider's perspective from the nation's leader in ocean conservation and management. As a volunteer intern, you will work on a variety of projects tailored to meet your capacity, availability and interests. We are based in Silver Spring, Maryland and easily accessible on Washington DC's metro system. As a volunteer in our offices, you'll be encouraged to attend marine conservation events, lectures, conferences and receptions that provide fantastic networking opportunities for your career development. 

We cooperate with institutions of higher learning and internship coordination programs to ensure students receive credit for their volunteer hours. We can arrange positions for part-time and full-time availability; while the duration of volunteer internships can vary, most typically last at least eight weeks. As these are volunteer positions, stipends are currently unavailable.


Volunteer internships are open to all individuals over the age of 15.  The NOAA Office of Security requires a background check which will begin at the start of your volunteer experience. 

Notice for non-US citizens: You must hold a J-1 visa and be accepted as a volunteer intern at least 45 days prior to the scheduled start date to complete additional security clearance. 

If you have questions regarding eligibility contact Claire.Fackler@noaa.gov.

How to Apply

To apply for a volunteer internship with the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, please review the available position descriptions below and send the following materials to the point of contact listed:

  • Cover letter
  • Resume/Curriculum Vitae
  • Writing sample

Available Volunteer Positions at Headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland

Destination Marketing/ Communications for Ocean Recreation and Tourism - Volunteer Intern

Did you know that NOAA's national marine sanctuaries are managed for the conservation of their natural and cultural resources, while supporting sustainable recreation and tourism. We invite you to join a dedicated and enthusiastic team at the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries where you will gain invaluable resume-building experience and an insider's perspective from the nation's leader in ocean conservation and management.

Education Volunteer Internship

The Education volunteer intern will be a member of the Education and Outreach Division, working primarily with the National Education Specialist. As a member of the education team, the volunteer intern will primarily work on lesson plan development. This includes formatting lesson plans into our existing system wide template, aligning existing lesson plans to national standards (NGSS, Common Core, etc), and creating original lesson plan content to teach about ocean and climate literacy and the importance of national marine sanctuaries in protecting the ocean for future generations. This is a great opportunity for students working on education degrees to gain experience as well as for retired teachers to continue providing support in their field of expertise.

Graphic Design Volunteer Internship

The NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries develops graphics to communicate key messages to stakeholder groups and the public. The Education and Outreach Division is seeking a talented graphic design volunteer with a passion for the design profession, an understanding of how to work within brand guidelines and the ability to take direction.

Media Relations Volunteer Internship

The Communications Team produces and distributes NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries messages through a variety of channels to a diverse audience – Capitol Hill legislators and staff, agency departments, news media and the public. As a volunteer intern, you will have the opportunity to participate in staff meetings; fine-tune writing, editing and proofreading skills; develop targeted media lists and media kits; learn media outreach strategies. Strong research and writing skills are a must, along with knowledge of social media trends and best practices.

Sanctuary Socioeconomics Volunteer Internship

The NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries develops and implements socioeconomic research and monitoring to support assessments of management strategies and regulations affecting various stakeholder user groups. ONMS is seeking an economics or social science student to provide socioeconomic research support to the chief economist.