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Long talked about concept of new national marine sanctuary on Central, South Coasts clears major hurdle

NOAA Image
A map of the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary proposal. A plan will be formalized during a two part public review process.

Public comment process beginning for Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary proposal.

A proposal to provide new protections for a huge swath of ocean, and coastline on the Central and South Coasts has received a long sought boost.

The Biden Administration approved the start of a process which could lead creation of the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary.

It’s a decades old idea to create a marine sanctuary which would extend from the Gaviota area, in Santa Barbara County to Cambria, in San Luis Obispo County:

"They accepted the nomination over five years ago, and this announcement basically says they've looked at the nomination, they think this area's worth protecting," said Kristen Hislop, with the Santa Barbara-based Environmental Defense Center.

"They're going to go throw a public progress to look at how to move forward, and if to move forward."

The proposal submitted by the Northern Chumash Tribal Council calls for more that 150 miles of coastline, and about 7,600 square miles overall. It would close the door to new offshore oil development, while allowing other uses like commercial and recreational fishing.

It would also connect the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, and the Monterey Bay national Marine Sanctuary.

The Northern Chumash Tribal Council prepared, and submitted the proposal in 2015. Sadly, the tribal leader who was the driving force behind the current effort, Fred Collins, didn’t live to see this milestone.

"My dad just recently passed," said Violet Sage Walker, Chairwoman of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council.

"Kind of a bittersweet news, because this was really his baby," she said. "He would have been really proud."

She says the proposed sanctuary would include some coastal landmarks significant to the tribe’s heritage.

Democratic Congressman Salud Carbajal of Santa Barbara pushed to extend the sanctuary’s nomination past a deadline for action, and lobbied to move the effort forward.

"We will protect a big swath of our coastline," said Carbajal.

Carbajal believes the sanctuary will also connect well with proposals to create a wind power farm in the ocean near Morro Bay.

The process officially starts Wednesday, with the opening of a two month period to collect the public’s ideas on the size, and protections which would be provided by a sanctuary.

After the initial process, the information will be used to shape a plan which will be brought back for a second round of public review. The entire process could take two to three years.

There’s no one specific set of guidelines, or rules which shapes how federal marine sanctuaries are managed. They are designed to meet the needs of a specific region.

You can find detailed information on the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary proposal, as well as information on the public process on the NOAA website.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.