Sanctuary Regulations

A black fish swimming on top of a colorful ocean floor with shades of pink, orange, and green marine life.
The sanctuary has special protections to conserve the fragile live-bottom habitats. Photo: Greg McFall/NOAA

Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary is managed under the authority of the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, a federal law that authorizes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to create national marine sanctuaries in special marine and Great Lakes waters of the United States and develop plans and regulations for their management and protection.

Regulations have been an essential part of managing and protecting the 22 square-mile Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary since its designation in 1981. People conduct a variety of activities in the sanctuary, such as research, fishing, photography, and diving. Some activities have the potential to negatively impact sanctuary resources on either an individual or cumulative basis. Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary regulations and permitting are designed to facilitate public and private uses of the sanctuary compatible with the primary objective of resource protection. The goal is to ensure a healthy ecosystem for continued use and enjoyment for generations to come.

Research Area

Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary regulations generally apply to activities throughout the entire sanctuary. But within the more highly-protected research area of the sanctuary, an additional set of sanctuary regulations also applies.

  • View an interactive list of current Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary regulations.

  • To view and/or download a PDF version of the most recent official published regulations for the entire National Marine Sanctuary System (including Gray's Reef), go to this link and select "Published Edition" in the left gray menu column. System-wide regulations appear first, followed by individual site regulations. Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary site regulations are found under Subpart I.

Map of the Sanctuary and Research Area Boundaries

A marine chart showing a rectangular sanctuary boundary and a red area in the southern third. Numbers on the chart indicate the depth within the sanctuary.
Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary is a rectangular-shaped sanctuary located 19 miles offshore of Sapelo Island, Georgia. Image: Alison Soss/NOAA

In addition to Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary regulations, there are other federal regulations regarding fishing and protected species (e.g. marine turtles and mammals) that apply within the sanctuary. Federal fisheries and protected species regulations are available from the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council and National Marine Fisheries Service - Southeast Region.