Gray’s Reef celebrates 50 years of marine sanctuaries and new Ocean Discovery Center

Officials cut the ribbon on the new Gray's Reef Ocean Discovery Center

NOAA Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary and the Gray’s Reef Chapter of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, celebrated the 50th anniversary for national marine sanctuaries with a “Save Spectacular Celebration”. This double celebration included the ribbon cutting and dedication of the new Gray’s Reef Ocean Discovery Center, followed by tours of the facility and a soiree for Chapter members and honored guests. The remote, ocean habitats of Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary, which is located 19 miles east of Sapelo Island off Georgia’s coast, is teeming with marine life including more than 200 fish species and is part of the endangered North Atlantic right whale’s calving ground as well as a refuge for loggerhead turtles. The Gray's Reef Ocean Discovery Center is located at 340 Martin Luther King Jr, Blvd in Savannah and is anticipated to open to the public in early 2023. It will offer free programs, activities, and opportunities for residents and visitors to discover Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary.

National, regional and local representatives made brief remarks during the dedication, culminating in the official ribbon cutting ceremony facilitated by Savannah’s Chamber of Commerce. Following introductions by Whitney Gilliard, CEO of Gilliard & Co and Chairwoman of the City of Savannah’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Task Force, the Director of the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries - John Armor and the organization’s Regional Director - Matt Brookhart, along with Vice-President of National Marine Sanctuary Foundation - Allison Alexander, emphasized the importance of the 50th anniversary of marine sanctuaries. 

Stan Rogers, Superintendent of Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary, said “We are grateful to all our honored guests for joining us on this important day for Savannah and the Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary. The new Ocean Discovery Center will be free for residents and visitors to discover, recreate and form lifelong connections with the spectacular Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary.” He continued, “I am delighted that in addition to national and regional guests that so many members of our local community are in attendance. Visitor centers support coastal communities and drive local economies by providing jobs and opportunities. Marine sanctuaries were created for both protection and enjoyment, now and in the future—and decisions about how to best manage each of these special places continue to be made using the best available scientific data, as well as extensive public input.”

50 years ago, the United States Congress, prompted by the Santa Barbara oil spill off the coast of California, three years earlier, passed the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act which allowed for the creation of marine sanctuaries. Since October 1972, the National Marine Sanctuary System has grown into a nationwide network of 15 national marine sanctuaries and two marine national monuments that conserve more than 620,000 square miles of ocean and great lakes waters. In a poll earlier this year conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago for the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation shows that over 80% of Americans favor protecting marine areas that have environmental, educational, or cultural importance.  

Prior to the official ribbon cutting for the new Gray’s Reef Ocean Discovery Center, District Alderman - Nick Palumbo, on behalf of the City of Savannah, welcomed this new development for the hostess city and its location on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, which is a designated urban redevelopment area focused on increasing economic viability and neighborhood sustainability. Cathy Sakas is the Founding Chair of the Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Foundation Board of Trustees and she spoke about the importance of public education and community engagement for ocean conservation.

This was followed by the performance of a spoken word poem written for the “Save Spectacular Celebration” by Chris Williams from Savannah’s Deep Center. After the ribbon cutting, guests and members of the public were invited to tour the new Ocean Discovery Center which will open in early 2023. Additional open days are free and open to the public from October 19-22.

The Gray’s Reef Chapter of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation in Savannah supports programs for community engagement, advocacy, education, and conservation, and engages everyone in protecting our ocean treasures. Jody Patterson, who leads the Gray’s Reef Foundation Chapter said, “Today is the beginning of a new era for Gray’s Reef as we celebrate the launch of this new visitor center in Savannah. We all recognize the importance of protecting marine life, and this Ocean Discovery Center will help us achieve our mission of supporting awareness of the sanctuary as a unique and vital landmark for our community.”  

For more information about the organizations, to become a member of the foundation, or to make a donation, visit and follow them on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn

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