CA - Chumash Heritage marine sanctuary would be a great asset | Guest Commentary
Thirty-one years ago, I helped lead the citizen campaign to establish Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary to get permanent protection from offshore oil.
But we got a bonus. Its team works to protect its habitats including an octopus garden, education and outreach including to underserved communities, and it works with partners to conduct world-renowned ocean research.
If designated, Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary would cover waters off northern Santa Barbara county, would be the West Coast’s sixth national marine sanctuary along with Olympic Coast, Cordell Bank, Greater Farallones, Monterey Bay and Channel Islands sanctuaries.
It would add protection between Monterey Bay and Channel Islands, and its team would work with representatives of Indigenous peoples who have stewarded natural assets in this area for thousands of years.
Like other sanctuaries, it would be a great asset.
Congress approved the national marine sanctuaries act in 1972 in the wake of the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, and its first test was the 1974 establishment of the USS Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, which stewards a Union Navy ironclad sunk during a Civil War battle off the East Coast.
Today, 15 national marine sanctuaries and two marine national monuments cover 620,000 square miles of ocean and Great Lakes supporting the resilience of waters that cover two thirds of our planet, provide half the oxygen we breathe and absorb excess atmospheric carbon.
They cooperate with state and agencies, non-profits, and volunteers to, for example, protect water quality. A great example is the work Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary does with farmers to reduce agricultural runoff, which received an award from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary protects 6,094 square miles off 276 miles of shoreline from southern Marin to northern San Luis Obispo counties. It includes the Monterey Bay Submarine Canyon, Elkhorn Slough, and Davidson Seamount 75 miles west of San Simeon.
Its habitats include 36 species of marine mammals, more than 180 species of seabirds and shorebirds, and at least 525 fish species. It has an Advisory Council with representatives from the community, government, and specific interests, including seats for commercial and recreational fishing.
Its staff and volunteers undertake education and outreach, research, and resource protection.
Here are just a few examples:
- The Sanctuary Exploration Center in Santa Cruz and Coastal Discovery Center in San Simeon serve tens of thousands of visitors per year. In 2022, the two sites served 946 students with field trips, plus 156 with class programs, and another 555 with virtual programs.
- Sanctuary researchers and partners are uncovering the wonders of the “Octopus Garden” which have been shared world-wide, a collaboration with amazing results. In another example, the sanctuary and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute have worked on growing deep-sea coral, which has aided in the recovery from the Deepwater Horizon spill.
- West Coast marine sanctuaries participate in the Whale Disentanglement Team, which had 40 volunteers trained and 13 rescue missions conducted in 2022. Work on crab gear that prevents entanglement continues, as does the Protecting Blue Whales & Blue Skies initiative, wherein large vessels voluntarily slow down to protect whales from ship strikes and protect air quality.
- Sanctuary staff, trawl fishers and conservation organizations negotiated Essential Fish Habitat Conservation Area modifications in 2013, which were approved by the Pacific Fishery Management Council in 2018 and finalized in 2020. This action both reopened areas closed to trawlers and closed areas important to ecosystem protection.
Nearly 2 billion pounds of fish, valued at $1 billion in 2022 dollars have been landed at area ports and Morro Bay since designation 31 years ago. The sanctuary itself does not regulate fishing but supports ecosystem health.