This summer the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that they were considering a proposal for a new Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary in California. The proposed area would cover 134 miles of coastline and more than 5,600 miles of ocean.
The period for public comment closes Wednesday, October 25 and the proposal will now move towards a final ruling, along with an environmental impact statement and management plan.
“The boundary of the Agency-Preferred Alternative for the proposed sanctuary would stretch along 134 miles of coastline from Montaña de Oro State Park in San Luis Obispo County to Naples, California, along the Gaviota Coast in Santa Barbara County and would encompass 5,617 square miles,” reads a statement from NOAA.
Having already gone through a number of iterations, the most current updated boundary of the sanctuary will now include a stretch of coastal waters along the Gaviota coast which will encompass Gaviota, Refugio and El Capitan State Parks. Additionally, Kashtayit and Naples State marine conservation areas, as well as coastline and water adjacent to historical Chumash village sites at Tajiguas and Dos Pueblos will also be included in the sanctuary.
“NOAA’s proposed designation would protect the region’s important marine ecosystems and maritime heritage resources, support ocean-dependent economies, and highlight the cultural values and connections of Indigenous communities to the area,” continues NOAA.
One of the issues that is setting up to be a bit contentious is how the sanctuary would allow for the development of green energy in the area. Currently, the boundary would exclude an area for the development of offshore wind energy, specifically subsea electrical cables and substations.
“When the tribe originally proposed creating a marine sanctuary, they had hoped to connect the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which is the largest protected marine area in California, with the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, off the coast of Santa Barbara,” reads a report from Lindsey Botts at The Sierra Club.
“If it’s not compatible with marine sanctuaries, we need to figure out a way to make it compatible with conservation,” Violet Sage Walker, the tribal chair of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, told the Sierra Club. “We can’t be cutting off one hand to save the other. Offshore wind and green renewable energy cannot be destroying the environment too.”
“Tribal members say they were blindsided in August when NOAA released the altered proposal to the public,” Botts continues.
The original vision for the Chumash National Marine Sanctuary was that it would connect with the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which is the largest protected marine area in California, and the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, off the coast of Santa Barbara, to create a protected area of over 7,600 miles—which would have been the largest national marine sanctuary in the United States. Organizers point to the fact that it would protect 13 different species of whales, several dolphin species, as well as the southern sea otter and harbor seals.
From San Luis Obispo to the north, Malibu to the south and the Channel Islands to the west, the Chumash people have called the California coast home for over 11,000 years. The Northern Chumash Tribal Council first nominated the region to be protected back in July 2015. NOAA issued their initial letter of intent in November 2021.
The California coastline is 840 miles long and the proposed Chumash National Marine Sanctuary alone would essentially protect 15% of that. The proposal is part of President Joe Biden's America the Beautiful Initiative, which seeks to conserve and restore 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030.
“The Chumash Heritage Sanctuary would also be the first sanctuary to focus on indigenous culture and history as a primary core value along with protection of ocean habitat,” reads a Surfrider Foundation statement. “The Chumash Tribe’s understanding and respect for nature comes from their long and profound cultural relationships with coastal marine ecosystems.”
The Chumash National Marine Sanctuary is a long way from being finalized, and with the period for public comment ending on October 25, there continues to be a lot of behind-the-scenes negotiations going on before the next steps are announced to the public. Whatever form it eventually takes, should the sanctuary eventually be signed into law it would mark a big step forward in protecting the California Coast and Pacific Ocean for generations to come.
Learn more by visiting Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary website. The easiest way to take action is to sign an existing letter of support below.
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