In 1972, in response to a growing awareness of the value of our coastal waters, Congress passed the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act. The Act authorized the designation of National Marine Sanctuaries to protect significant waters and secure habitat for aquatic species, shelter historically significant shipwrecks and other cultural resources, and serve as valuable spots for research, fishing, wildlife viewing, boating, and tourism.

Under the authority of National Marine Sanctuaries Act, in 1981 the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary (GFNMS) was designated. In 2015, the sanctuary expanded and changed its name to Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.

Within the area designated as GFNMS, the Act authorizes the promulgation of regulations that are reasonable and necessary to protect the values of the Sanctuary. The Act also authorizes the Secretary of Commerce to establish sanctuary advisory councils to provide advice to the Secretary of Commerce regarding the designation and management of national marine sanctuaries. This authority has been delegated to the Director of the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. The Director established the Sanctuary Advisory Council.