The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced on Tuesday that a new National Marine Sanctuary off the Coast of California is taking the final steps towards official designation.
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The proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary, which currently covers over 7,000 square miles off the coasts of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties, has been under consideration by the federal government since first being considered in 2015. The Chumash Sanctuary would protect submerged sacred Chumash tribal sites, as well as many important marine wildlife, such as a large kelp forest.
In addition to the environmental and cultural aspects, lawmakers have said that the designation would help keep out offshore drilling and power production and help boost tourism and fishing in the area.
“I am thrilled the Biden administration has taken this step to protect our coastal areas from further oil and gas drilling and strengthen our state’s $1.9 trillion coastal economy, which is propped up by tourism and commercial fishing,” said Congressman Salud Carbajal (D-CA).
Tribal leaders also weighed in, supporting the new Sanctuary.
“Successfully designating the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary will protect ocean life, sacred Chumash sites, strengthen Indigenous communities and serve as a model of environmental justice,” noted Northern Chumash Tribal Council Chairwoman Violet Sage Walker in a statement. “Today’s announcement marks a major milestone after more than 40 years of tireless advocacy for ocean protection, and also represents the first tribally nominated sanctuary in the nation. Today my father would be proud. This is one of the things he wanted to see the most.”
While most are supportive of the Sanctuary, some are not yet convinced of its need, with many fisher groups worried that the sanctuary may close out fishing completely.
“Usually these Sanctuaries are good about fishing,” Arnold Ribera, a charter fishing organizer told the Globe. “Both sport and commercial fishing are usually allowed, but it has been becoming more common for thee areas to severely restrict fishing. Remember, once approved, the area will be under government control and they can regulate that and other tourist activities as much as they want. And if they shut it down, we may very well be out of it.”
“No one is really mad about the name or the boundaries. What we’re concerned about is their ability to just stop activities at a moments notice. And that’s our livelihoods out here. It can’t stop suddenly like that.”
Public comment is now open, with the issue of Sanctuary boundaries and the name being up for public meetings and possible changes in the coming months. Public comments can be submitted to the NOAA until January 10, 2022.
If approved, Chumash would be California’s fifth National Marine Sanctuary following the Channel Islands, Cordell Bank, Greater Farallones, and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuaries.
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