We’re thrilled that California’s central coast may get a new marine sanctuary

Our work in support of the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary


Meghan Hurley

The late Fred Collins, former Northern Chumash tribal chairman, once reminisced on a time when California’s central coast was awash with thriving ocean life. He used to be able to “walk across the creek on salmon, on the backs of fish.”

The concept of thriveability, coined by Collins, is the vision for what our ocean can look like if we protect it. It’s an inspiration for why a 156-mile stretch along California’s central coastline should be a National Marine Sanctuary. Collins submitted the original nomination for the sanctuary to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in 2015. Much of his life’s work revolved around securing sanctuary status for this special area. 

With climate change, oil spills and overfishing threatening to strip the sea of its life, our ocean needs protection now more than ever. The proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary is a unique stretch of California’s coast that vitally deserves safeguarding. It is a biodiversity hotspot that sustains a diverse range of ocean wildlife, including  25 threatened or endangered species. Collins offered the reminder to “forget sustainability, we do not want to sustain where we are at.” We want to protect the ocean so it can return to its historical abundance. 

Bringing this vision closer to reality, NOAA published its intent to designate the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary on Nov. 10. The comment period on this first phase of designation extended until January 31, 2022. In support of designation, Environment California wrote a letter to the administration; collected 5,352 public comments; organized a scientist support letter with 156 signatures; collected at least 20 original student comments; and joined with the Marine Sanctuary Foundation and others to submit a formal comment. . 

We also held an informative webinar with Northern Chumash Tribal Chairwoman Violet Sage Walker, U.S Rep. Salud Carbajal, California Secretary of Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot, and marine scientist Dr. Dawn Murray. We met with community leaders, wrote opinion pieces in newspapers, and brought in scientists and other powerful constituencies to support the cause. We hosted events for students in the process and wrote several blogs. 

One week before the close of the comment period, Environment America and CALPIRG at University of California – Santa Barbara did an activist training event to show students how to submit a public comment in support of the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary. Violet Sage Walker discussed the importance of the sanctuary and answered student questions. Afterwards, interns Sloane Hauck and Lauren Rebrovich shared a presentation with a step-by-step on how to write a public comment to NOAA. A recording of the event can be found here.

This campaign highlights the power of collective action, and we are excited for NOAA to release their draft management plan to move the designation forward. We hope to see this area thrive as a National Marine Sanctuary, where clear, oil free waters can once again support creeks brimming with salmon. 

Photo credit for top photo: Robert Schwemmer, NOAA. Morro Rock, a volcanic plug, is located at the entrance to Morro Bay; tribal names are Salinan Le’samo and Chumash Lisamu’.


Meghan Hurley

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