Sanctuary Overview

Scuba diver swimming past coral and sponges.
Scuba divers see a diversity of marine life including sponges, corals, fishes, and other invertebrates. Photo: Greg McFall/NOAA

Safely tucked away in the Atlantic Ocean, Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary is cared for and treasured by divers, anglers, scientists, and conservationists. NOAA designated the area as a national marine sanctuary in 1981 because of its diversity of species and abundance of marine life. Almost 1,000 species of invertebrates—animals without a backbone—and 200 species of fish have been identified at Gray's Reef. The area is abundant with wildlife swimming around, crawling on the ocean floor, and growing on its rocky ledges.

The 22-square-mile sanctuary protects a vibrant, hard-bottom ocean area off the Georgia coast, about 19 miles east of Sapelo Island, and 40 miles southeast of historic Savannah, Georgia. Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary is one of only 16 marine protected areas that make up the National Marine Sanctuary System and is governed by the National Marine Sanctuaries Act.

A school of fish swim over a white and red sponge
An abundance of diverse fish and invertebrates was the reason Gray's Reef was designated a national marine sanctuary. Photo: Greg McFall/NOAA

The mission of Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary is to identify, protect, conserve, and enhance the natural and cultural resources, values, and qualities of the sanctuary for current and future generations. Our vision is that Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary will continue to be an area teeming with a diversity and abundance of marine life supported by healthy habitats in clean ocean waters.