Continuing California’s coastal protection legacy

Why we need to protect the Pacific off the SoCal shore.


Sea otter

Winding the 135 or so miles along the iconic California coastline from Santa Barbara to Cambria, lucky drivers (or hikers) might witness a wide array of ocean wildlife, from sea otters to mighty whales, just offshore. But unless the government starts protecting that area, those exciting sightings could become a thing of the past. That stretch is one of the few parts of the California coast lacking protections against offshore drilling. 

That’s why, on May 27, 2020, Environment California Research & Policy Center staff and our national partners publicly supported a nomination to designate the area as the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary. That sanctuary status would stop the threat of drilling, and create a living laboratory that can help us understand the impacts of climate change in our oceans. 

But getting that designation isn’t easy. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has a list of nominated places it could choose, and it regularly assesses whether those nominees have enough support to remain on the list.. 

Here are the supporting arguments we put forth when we testified in May: 

Let’s protect California’s iconic coastline

My name is Emily Fieberling and I am the conservation fellow with Environment California and the Environment California Research & Policy Center, with the shared mission of ensuring that Californians have access to clean air, clean water, and open space for generations to come.

As a California resident, someone who grew up on the beaches of Santa Cruz and now resides in the Bay Area, I know firsthand the importance of protecting our iconic coastline and the rare ocean-dwelling species that call the California coast home.

It’s, in large part, our majestic beaches that fuel the Califorian cultural impetus to protect our most beloved places, and often drive us to lead in environmental protection policy. 

California has taken state action to protect our oceans through the Marine Life Protection Act, and adding the Chumash Heritage Sanctuary will help complete the work of preserving California’s ocean heritage and ensure the last bit of the California coastline is researched and monitored for generations to come.

I can personally attest to the educational and biological importance of this region because almost exactly two years ago, I traveled to Pismo Beach and the Kenneth Norris Rancho Marino Reserve to conduct marine botany fieldwork for my degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Over the last five years, we have only further uncovered the augmenting consequences of the climate and biodiversity crises. So, it’s only of more pressing value that this area around Point Conception and Santa Lucia Bank has been identified and marked as a hotspot critical to key ecosystem functions such as trophic transfer and providing nutrients to sustain diverse species, feed planktonic communities and kelp forests, and support various life stages of marine flora and fauna.

I’d also like to echo the previous comments regarding the sad and horrific consequences of the Refugio oil spill and Environment California’s eagerness to limit these disastrous events in the future.

That’s why I am speaking on behalf of Environment California and Environment California Research & Policy Center in support of the extension of the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary nomination, which will help further ocean protection.

We need to fight the biodiversity crisis, in California and around the country

My name is Kelsey Lamp and I am the oceans advocate with Environment America, a national environmental advocacy organization that works in 29 states to protect our clean air, clean water and open spaces, and Environment America Research and Policy Center. I am responsible for directing our campaigns to protect more of our oceans, including areas in the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico. 

Whether you live in a coastal state, or grew up hours from the nearest beach, as I did, you can’t help but appreciate the beauty and importance of our ocean. That’s why I am speaking on behalf of Environment America and Environment America Research and Policy Center in support of keeping the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary nomination in its inventory, which will help further ocean protection.

Globally, we face a biodiversity crisis, which was clearly documented in the 2019 Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). That report found that 1 million species risk extinction, including many of our most iconic marine life, and as ecosystems struggle to adapt to climate change, we need to act to protect more of our oceans. 

Designation of the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary will help us achieve that goal. The area is undoubtedly ecologically significant: The confluence of major ocean currents and resulting upwelling systems creates remarkable biodiversity in the area nominated. A feeding hotspot for marine life migrating through the existing west coast national marine sanctuaries, this area will enhance conservation, including for the iconic and threatened California sea otter, and be important in preserving the rich food web and diverse migrating wildlife in this time of increasing impacts in our ocean of pollution, fracking, seismic testing for oil, offshore vessel waste disposal and climate change. This makes the proposed sanctuary a welcomed addition to the sanctuaries system. 

America has a long history of conservation, and protecting our ocean as key to conserving our natural heritage for generations to come. I urge the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries to extend the nomination and protect the Chumash Heritage. 

Photo: Steve Lonhart/NOAA


Steve Blackledge

Senior Director, Conservation America Campaign, Environment America

Steve directs Environment America’s efforts to protect our public lands and waters and the species that depend on them. He led our successful campaign to win full and permanent funding for our nation’s best conservation and recreation program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund. He previously oversaw U.S. PIRG’s public health campaigns. Steve lives in Sacramento, California, with his family, where he enjoys biking and exploring Northern California.