Exploring Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary

This year, Scuba Diver Life is partnering with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to bring you images and stories from each of the United States’ 11 dive-able marine sanctuaries. This month, we bring you to Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.

For more than 40 years, national marine sanctuaries have worked to protect special places in America’s oceans and Great Lakes waters, from the Hawaiian Islands to the Florida Keys, from Lake Huron to American Samoa. Backed by one of the nation’s strongest pieces of ocean-conservation legislation, the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, the sanctuaries seek to preserve the extraordinary beauty, biodiversity, historical connections and economic productivity of our most precious underwater treasures. And — lucky for you — most of these places are accessible to recreational divers. Sanctuary waters are filled with unique ecosystems, harboring a spectacular array of plants, animals and historical artifacts, all waiting to be explored. National marine sanctuaries belong to everyone, so dive in.

Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary

Beneath the cool, temperate waters off Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula lie thriving habitats, home to a diverse array of marine organisms. Sea otters hunt sea urchins hidden within gently swaying stalks of kelp; sea stars nestle into rocky reef crevices; and large schools of fish patrol the open water.

Protecting nearly 2,500 square nautical miles of ocean, Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary is home to one of North America’s most productive ocean ecosystems. Habitats like kelp forests, rocky reefs, open ocean and submarine canyons support over 300 species of fish, 100 species of seabirds, 29 species of marine mammals and an abundance of invertebrates. This region’s rich annual upwelling results in plankton blooms that support populations of orcas, sea lions, albatross, jellyfish, rockfish, sponges, corals and more.

The sanctuary hugs 135 miles of some of the most spectacular undeveloped coastline in the United States, 65 miles of which overlap with the wilderness beaches of Olympic National Park. This remote and rugged coastline is well-known for large, crashing waves throughout most of the year.

While the underwater ecosystems of Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary are incredible to explore, only expert divers with advanced skills and exposed, open-water experience should attempt to slip beneath the surface. The area’s extreme weather and ocean conditions, in addition to its remote isolation, can make it a dangerous destination without adequate preparation. Diving with a local dive charter operation can help ensure your safety while diving.

If you’re looking to explore the sanctuary’s marine habitats without diving, tide pools along Olympic Coast’s shoreline are easily accessible from shore, and are ideal places to see marine life like sea stars, anemones and hermit crabs. Enjoy the diversity of life in the tide pools with the whole family when you visit during low tide, always making sure to follow good tide pool etiquette.

When diving, help ensure the safety of the marine life by streamlining your equipment as much as possible, and do not touch or remove any wildlife. In this way we can all help preserve this ecologically important and biologically diverse ocean region.

Experience the wonders of Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary and other national marine sanctuaries via our photos, and see more here.

By guest writers Allison Randolph and Elizabeth Weinberg, NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries

Cover image credit: Janna Nichols