Center for American Progress

16 National Monuments and Marine Sanctuaries Biden Should Create or Expand

16 National Monuments and Marine Sanctuaries Biden Should Create or Expand

Here are some of the many community-led proposals to protect U.S. lands and waters awaiting action by President Joe Biden and his administration.

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A hiker looks toward Lake Berryessa in Northern California.
A hiker looks toward Lake Berryessa as viewed from the Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve near Winters, California, on December 29, 2014. (Getty/Los Angeles Times/Allen J. Schaben)

President Joe Biden has many executive authorities at his disposal to meet his administration’s historic promise to conserve 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030. This includes the power of the president to designate national monuments and the power of his National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to designate national marine sanctuaries, answering the call from community, state, Tribal, and other leaders for action.

This issue brief highlights some of the many community-led proposals for national monuments and national marine sanctuaries that warrant serious consideration by President Biden. This is, by no means, an exhaustive list and is only intended to spotlight examples of the opportunities surfaced by communities across the nation to protect special places, honor important histories, and bridge the inequitable gap in nature access.

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National monuments

The Antiquities Act of 1908 grants presidents the power to designate new national monuments, and it has been used by Democratic and Republican presidents since Teddy Roosevelt to conserve lands and waters with rich historical, cultural, or scientific importance—from Devil’s Tower to Papahānaumokuākea and Bears Ears. As the Center for American Progress has noted in recent reports, however, more focus is needed to ensure that the histories preserved—and stories told—by the country’s national monuments are representative of all the nation’s people1 and that new conservation areas increase outdoor access for nature-deprived communities.2

In October, President Biden created his first national monument: the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument in Colorado. Additionally, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland has visited Castner Range, Avi Kwa Ame, and Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley sites, which are described below. Biden administration leaders should build on these first steps by engaging with more communities advocating for these and other proposals and by taking action consistent with the president’s conservation commitment.

Castner Range (Texas)

In West Texas, Castner Range sits on 7,081 acres of land currently owned and managed by the U.S. Army. This undeveloped landscape near El Paso is the ancestral homeland of the Comanche and Apache people.3 It harbors ancient cultural sites and historic remains dating back more than 10,000 years, rare plants and endangered wildlife, and a landscape renowned for its Mexican gold poppy fields. Castner Range is deeply treasured by locals and draws visitors from across the Americas.4 Long inaccessible to the public, the area represents a valuable recreation and economic opportunity; a symbol of beauty, history, and pride for the borderlands community; and a chance for President Biden to close the nature gap. A recent analysis by CAP and the Hispanic Access Foundation found that 9 in 10 Latinos and almost 95 percent of low-income communities in the majority-Latino area surrounding the proposed monument are nature deprived.5 A national monument at Castner Range would demonstrate a commitment to ensuring nature, and all of its benefits, is accessible to all Americans.

Read more on Castner Range

Avi Kwa Ame (Nevada)

The proposed 443,000-acre Avi Kwa Ame—or “Spirit Mountain”—National Monument in Southern Nevada includes lands that are sacred or culturally significant to 12 local Tribes: the Mojave, Hualapai, Yavapai, Havasupai, Quechan, Maricopa, Pai, Halchidhoma, Cocopah, Kumeyaay, Hopi, and Chemehuevi-Paiute. In addition to honoring and preserving a landscape deeply rooted in Indigenous cultures and traditions, a monument designation would protect significant archaeological and historic sites, biodiversity hot spots, and recreation opportunities. Ecologically, the monument would conserve significant Joshua Tree forests, critical desert tortoise habitat, migratory corridors for desert bighorn sheep and other species, and essential connectivity between protected areas in California, Nevada, and Arizona.6

Springfield Race Riot site (Illinois)

One of the most violent race riots in U.S. history occurred on August 14, 1908, in what had been a prosperous Black neighborhood in Springfield, Illinois.7 This event was the catalyst for the creation of the NAACP, which is part of a coalition calling on President Biden to establish the Springfield Race Riot site as a monument.8 A bipartisan bill to protect this site was reintroduced last year.9 The potential monument, which could span the distance of five homes in the city, would be a meaningful step toward honoring Black Americans and expanding the inclusiveness of histories told on America’s public lands.

Black Wall Street (Oklahoma)

A thriving Black community in the Greenwood neighborhood outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma—known as “Black Wall Street”—endured racially driven violence when a white mob killed hundreds of Black Americans, destroying businesses and homes across 40 acres in May 1921. Known as the Tulsa Race Massacre, this event catalyzed the stark racial wealth and health gaps that endure in Tulsa today.10 Now, the Tulsa community is advocating for national monument designation for this Greenwood district to help educate, preserve, and honor this important piece of Black history.

Plum Island (New York)

Plum Island sits on 822 acres between Connecticut and New York and has shores touched by national estuaries. Regional and national advocates have fought for years against development and potential sell-off that threaten the island’s ecological, scenic, recreational, and cultural value. Plum Island is home to hundreds of species—many rare or endangered—and hosts almost one-fourth of all North American bird species that live north of Mexico. A monument designation would preserve cultural heritage dating back thousands of years as well as historic structures such as the Plum Island Lighthouse and Fort Terry army barracks and weapons batteries.11

Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley (Illinois and Mississippi)

To honor the legacy of Emmet Till and his mother Mamie Till-Mobley, this community-led proposal advocates for a national monument at Chicago’s Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ and the Tallahatchie County Courthouse in Sumner, Mississippi—the site of the trial of Till’s murderers in September 1955. Till’s brutal murder in Mississippi on August 28, 1955, when he was just 14 years old; the acquittal of his murderers; and his mother’s decision to hold an open-casket funeral at Roberts Temple Church served as major sparks for the civil rights movement.12 This historic site deserves durable protections to honor Black communities and educate people across the country on the civil rights movement.

Berryessa Snow National Monument expansion (California)

Originally designated by President Barack Obama in 2015, Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument conserves more than 330,000 acres of Northern California’s Inner Coast Range. Today, a broad coalition of local and national groups have joined the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation in calling on President Biden to expand the monument to include the entirety of what is currently known as Walker Ridge, to formally rename the area Molok Luyuk (“Condor Ridge” in the Patwin language), and to require Tribal co-management and meaningful consultation. Steeped in history and cultural significance for various Tribes, Molok Luyuk is known for its ecological diversity, unique geological features, and essential role as a wildlife corridor for many species.13

Numu Newe (Nevada)

Proposed for monument designation by the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe, Numu Newe (which means “the people” in Paiute and Shoshone) spans 3 million acres of public land east of Fallon, Nevada, and near the Tribe’s reservation. The monument would conserve the Tribe’s ancestral lands of natural, historic, and cultural importance, including ceremonial lands, burial grounds, and other sacred Tribal cultural sites. If designated, Numu Newe could become the largest existing national monument on U.S. lands and would buffer local communities from the proposed expansion of the Naval Air Station Fallon.14

Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument expansion (Pacific)

The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument—originally designated by President George W. Bush in 2009 and expanded by President Obama in 2014—encompasses nearly 317 million acres of ocean surrounding several U.S. Pacific territories. A coalition is calling on President Biden to expand the monument from its current borders to encompass the full exclusive economic zone surrounding Howland and Baker islands and Kingman Reef and Palmyra Atoll.15 This action would protect the 98 currently unprotected seamounts and safeguard a biodiversity hot spot. Advocates have also called for a co-management structure and a new name for the monument.16

Achieving the president’s ambitious conservation, climate, and environmental justice commitments will require an all-hands-on-deck effort by his administration. Fortunately, community, state, and Tribal leaders stand ready to join them in this work.

National marine sanctuaries

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), within the U.S. Department of Commerce, has the authority to designate national marine sanctuaries to conserve marine and Great Lakes waters. NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) currently manages 15 sanctuaries, from Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Massachusetts to the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa.

Several sanctuary proposals from communities across the country await action by NOAA, including some proposals—highlighted below—with Indigenous involvement and leadership, with nominations submitted by Tribes and Indigenous nonprofits or nominations supported by Indigenous groups.17 To help meet his “America the Beautiful” commitments for marine conservation, President Biden should direct NOAA to substantially expedite the process to designate potential marine sanctuaries, including by acting on designation proposals currently under consideration by NOAA and advancing successful nominations to the designation stage.

Mariana Trench (Northern Mariana Islands)

The waters surrounding the Mariana Islands have some of the highest levels of biodiversity in the United States, surrounded by migrating whales and turtles, coral reefs, and hundreds of species of fish—some found nowhere else on the planet. The region is home to the iconic Mariana Trench, the deepest ocean trench yet discovered.18 For more than 3,000 years, the islands have been home to Chamorro people, who hold and practice Indigenous knowledge and values. The nomination for the proposed Mariana Trench National Marine Sanctuary was submitted by the Friends of the Mariana Trench, an Indigenous-led organization based on Saipan, with support from the governor and congressional delegate and was accepted into the inventory of successful nominations in March 2017.19 The nominators have not proposed a border for the sanctuary, but the congressional delegate supports an overlay of the 246,000-square-kilometer Mariana Trench Marine National Monument. In January 2022, NOAA requested the beginning of the five-year review process for the nomination of the proposed sanctuary. NOAA should renew the nomination and begin designation.20

Alaĝum Kanuux̂ (Alaska)

The proposed Alaĝum Kanuux̂—or “Heart of the Ocean”—National Marine Sanctuary is situated around the Pribilof Islands, a remote Bering Sea archipelago home to hundreds of Unangan (Aleut) people, hundreds of thousands of northern fur seals, and millions of seabirds. The Unangan Community of St. Paul Island Tribal Government nominated Alaĝum Kanuux̂ in 2021 to advance Indigenous-led conservation, Tribal self-determination, and sustainable enterprise to support local economies in the face of climate change, all under a new approach to equitable Tribal co-management in the sanctuary system. Designating Alaĝum Kanuux̂ as a national marine sanctuary would not only help restore biodiversity in this area but also allow Tribal governments to take their rightful place as decision-makers for the ocean environments they have called home for millennia. This designation is also directly aligned with the White House’s National Strategy for the Arctic Region, which seeks to advance sustainable economic development, environmental protection, and partnerships for strong and equitable governance. Alaĝum Kanuux̂ was added to the inventory of successful nominations in June 2022. NOAA should move swiftly to develop the requisite co-management frameworks and begin the public scoping and designation processes for the proposed sanctuary.21

Chumash Heritage (California)

In 2013, the Northern Chumash Tribal Council launched a campaign for formal national marine sanctuary designation. In 2015, the nomination was accepted and placed on an official list for consideration by NOAA. The nomination and designation could set an important precedent for amplifying Indigenous voices and cultural values around ocean conservation, as it is the first national marine sanctuary that was proposed and will subsequently be co-managed by local Tribes. It would help advance collaboration between federal, state, and local governments as well as Tribal leadership. The proposed area stretches along 156 miles of coastline, encompassing 7,000 square miles. NOAA should complete the designation of the proposed sanctuary.22

Papahānaumokuākea (Hawaii)

In 2021, ONMS initiated the process to consider designating marine portions of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument as a national marine sanctuary. This designation would add a layer of conservation protection to help permanently safeguard resources in the marine portions of the monument and would increase engagement with the community through sanctuary education programs at the Mokupāpapa Discovery Center for Hawaii’s Remote Coral Reefs. Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is the largest contiguous highly protected conservation area under the U.S. flag, encompassing an area of 582,578 square miles of the Pacific Ocean—an area larger than all the country’s national parks combined. Home to the highly endangered Hawaiian monk seal, threatened green turtles, and many species found nowhere else on earth, the complex and highly productive marine ecosystems of the monument are significant contributors to the biological diversity of the ocean. NOAA should complete the designation of the proposed sanctuary.23

Hudson Canyon (New York)

Hudson Canyon is the largest submarine canyon along the eastern coast of the United States. Beginning less than 100 miles from New York City, this fragile and productive ecosystem supports an amazing diversity of marine life, including deep-sea corals, threatened sea turtles, and whales, seabirds, sharks, and hundreds of other fish and invertebrates. The sanctuary would help exclude oil, gas, and mineral exploration and development; would foster partnerships for education and workforce development; and could serve as a sentinel monitoring site, all while connecting communities from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut to the ocean. The Wildlife Conservation Society nominated Hudson Canyon in November 2016 and has built a diverse coalition of stakeholders, members of the public, and elected officials, including bipartisan support in the House of Representatives. After a five-year review process, NOAA concluded that Hudson met its criteria for a site of national ecological significance and began the designation process in June 2022. NOAA should establish a pre-designation Sanctuary Advisory Council with broad stakeholder representation and complete the sanctuary designation process.24

Lake Ontario (New York)

In April 2019, in response to a community-based sanctuary nomination, NOAA announced its intent to designate a new national marine sanctuary in New York’s eastern Lake Ontario. The proposed sanctuary would allow NOAA to manage, research, interpret, and improve public access to a nationally significant collection of maritime heritage resources, including historic shipwrecks. The proposed sanctuary would celebrate the area’s unique history and heritage and provide a national stage for promoting tourism and recreation. NOAA should complete the designation of the proposed sanctuary.25

Lake Erie Quadrangle (Pennsylvania)

The proposed Lake Erie Quadrangle National Marine Sanctuary would encompass the 759 square miles of Pennsylvania’s Lake Erie waters. This underwater museum is believed to hold one of the densest collections of shipwrecks within the Great Lakes. The proposed sanctuary would protect cultural and historical artifacts, expand the maritime campus developing on the Pennsylvania shores of Lake Erie, enhance and expand the tourism industry, and create an international agreement with Canada to protect the more than 400 shipwrecks estimated within the quadrangle. NOAA should begin designation of the proposed sanctuary.26

See also


President Biden has a tremendous opportunity to conserve America’s rich cultural and ecological resources and fulfill the vision of community leaders across the country to protect places they love. National monument and national marine sanctuary designations are two powerful tools to do just that.

The places highlighted above are not intended to represent a comprehensive list of conservation opportunities. In addition to visiting and meeting with the local leaders who have championed the aforementioned opportunities for executive action, the administration should actively explore a variety of land and water protection proposals with strong support, including by engaging with Tribal, state, and congressional leaders about proposed legislation and other Tribally or community-led proposals for permanent protection. Some examples include the Great Bend of the Gila in Arizona,27 Eastern Las Vegas in Nevada,28 and Dolores River Canyon Country in Colorado.29

Achieving the president’s ambitious conservation, climate, and environmental justice commitments will require an all-hands-on-deck effort by his administration. Fortunately, community, state, and Tribal leaders who have labored for generations to steward the lands, waters, and heritage they treasure stand ready to join them in this work.


The authors would like to thank CAP’s Jarvis Holliday, Anuka Upadhye, Zainab Mirza, Miriam Goldstein, Steve Bonitatibus, and Sam Hananel as well as our many external reviewers, particularly the local and national conservation leaders who are building impactful and equitable conservation solutions every day.


  1. Sam Zeno and others, “National Monuments Are a Missing Piece in Biden’s Equitable Conservation Agenda” (Washington: Center for American Progress, 2022), available at
  2. Jenny Rowland- Shea and others, “The Nature Gap: Confronting Racial and Economic Disparities in the Destruction and Protection of Nature in America” (Washington: Center for American Progress, 2020), available at
  3. Manuel G. Galaviz, Norma Hartell, and Ashleyann Perez-Rivera, “Place, Story & Culture: An Inclusive Approach to Protecting Latino Heritage Sites” (Washington: Hispanic Access Foundation, 2021), available at; Sam Zeno, Shanna Edberg, and Brenda Gallegos, “Making Castner Range a National Monument Would Help Nature-Deprived Communities” (Washington: Center for American Progress, 2019), available at
  4. Castner Range Forever, “Reports and Resources,” available at (last accessed October 2022).
  5. Zeno, Edberg, and Gallegos, “Making Castner Range a National Monument Would Help Nature-Deprived Communities.”
  6. Avi Kwa Ame, “Home,” available at (last accessed October 2022); Honor Avi Kwa Ame, “Home,” available at (last accessed October 2022).
  7. Teresa Haley and Chris Hill, “Springfield Race Massacre Site Deserves Recognition, Protection,” Sierra, February 26, 2022, Sierra Magazine, available at
  8. Sierra Club and others, “Springfield Race Riot Admin letter,” January 24, 2022, available at
  9. Springfield Race Riot National Monument Act, S. 305, 117th Cong., 1st sess. (February 8, 2021), available at
  10. Tiffany Crutcher and John W.S. Dunmore, “Viewpoint: Black Wall Street should be a national monument in Oklahoma,” The Oklahoman, March 13, 2022, available at
  11. Preserve Plum Island Coalition, “Save Plum Island,” available at (last accessed October 2022); Sen. Charles E. Schumer and others, “Letter to Sec. Haaland: Plum Island,” Save the Sound, April 25, 2022, available at
  12. Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Park Campaign, “Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument Letter Writing Campaign,” available at (last accessed October 2022).
  13. Anthony Roberts, “Antiquities Act Proclamation Request,” Tuleyome, October 19, 2022, available at; Sandra Schubert and others, “Molok Luyuk Coalition Letter to President Biden,” Tuleyome, October 19, 2022, available at; Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) and others, “CA Members Antiquities Act Request for BSMNM,” Office of Rep. John Garamendi, October 17, 2022, available at
  14. Cathi Tuni, Debbie George, and Laura Parry, “Tribes stand ready to lead Nevada conservation efforts,” Reno Gazette Journal, March 24, 2022, available at; Chris D’Angelo, “Nevada Tribes Call For New National Monument Near Navy Bombing Range,” HuffPost, March 24, 2022, available at
  15. Pacific Remote Islands Coalition, “Expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument,” available at (last accessed October 2022).
  16. Pacific Remote Islands Coalition, “Our Proposal: Expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument,” available at (last accessed October 2022); Hōkū Pihana, “Column: Use origin names for Pacific Remote Islands,” Honolulu Star-Advertiser, August 21, 2022,
  17. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “Sanctuary Nomination Process,” available at (last accessed October 2022).
  18. Elin Kelsey, “The Deepest Ocean on Earth: A Scientific Case for Establishing the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument” (Philadelphia: Global Ocean Legacy, 2008, available at
  19. Angelo Villagomez and Ignacio Cabrera, “Mariana Trench National Marine Sanctuary Nomination,” December 5, 2016, available at
  20. Friends of the Mariana Trench, “Friends Recognize the NOAA Sanctuaries Public Outreach Efforts,” Press release, February 2, 2022, available at
  21. Aleut Community of St. Paul Island Tribal Government, “Alaĝum Kanuux̂: Heart of the Ocean: Pribilof Islands Marine Ecosystem (PRIME) Initiative” (St. Paul, AK: 2021), available at
  22. Fred Collins, “Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary Nomination” (Los Osos, CA: Northern Chumash Tribal Council, 2015), available at; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “Proposed Designation of Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary,” available at (last accessed October 2022).
  23. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “Proposed Designation of Papahānaumokuākea National Marine Sanctuary,” available at (last accessed October 2022); Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, “National Marine Sanctuary Designation for Papahānaumokuākea,” available at (last accessed October 2022).
  24. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “Proposed Designation of Hudson Canyon National Marine Sanctuary,” available at (last accessed October 2022); Jon Forrest Dohlin, “Hudson Canyon National Marine Sanctuary Nomination” (New York: New York Aquarium, 2016), available at
  25. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “Proposed Designation of Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary,” available at (last accessed October 2022); Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) and others, “Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary: Proposal to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Sanctuary Program” (Oswego, NY: Great Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary Nomination Task Force, 2017), available at
  26. Kathy Dahlkemper, “Lake Erie Quadrangle National Marine Sanctuary Proposal” (Erie, PA: Erie County Executive’s Office, 2015), available at
  27. Respect Great Bend, “Respect Great Bend of the Gila,” available at (last accessed November 2022).
  28. East Las Vegas National Monument Coalition, “East Las Vegas National Monument,” available at (last accessed November 2022).
  29. Dolores River Boating Advocates, “Dolores River Canyon National Conservation Area Proposal,” available at (last accessed November 2022).

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Drew McConville

Senior Fellow

Angelo Villagomez

Senior Fellow

Sam Zeno

Policy Analyst, Conservation Policy

Michael Freeman

Former Policy Analyst

Nicole Gentile

Senior Director, Conservation


Conservation Policy

We work to protect our lands, waters, ocean, and wildlife to address the linked climate and biodiversity crises. This work helps to ensure that all people can access and benefit from nature and that conservation and climate investments build a resilient, just, and inclusive economy.

Explore The Series

Branches are pictured in Death Valley National Park.

President Joe Biden made a historic commitment to escalate the pace of U.S. conservation and put the nation on a trajectory to conserve 30 percent of its lands, waters, and oceans by 2030. His administration has made important progress through its "America the Beautiful" initiative, but the intertwined crises of nature loss, climate change, and inequitable access to nature demand more urgent action. Fortunately, President Biden has a suite of executive authorities at his disposal, and this series from the Center for American Progress offers a number of tangible opportunities and policy recommendations to help the president to deliver on his promise.


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