CA - Finding sanctuary: Oil spills, science and bipartisanship
Pushing the potential Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary’s boundary far north enough to protect waters coveted by the oil industry between Santa Cruz and San Francisco was a priority in the late 1980s, and so was addressing possible spills from oil tankers, even before two spills hit the U.S. in 1989 and 1990.
The Coast Guard sought public input on whether offshore oil platforms should co-exist with vessel traffic lanes off California. Save Our Shores had advocated for mandatory lanes, as well as better spill preparedness and among those speaking at a hearing in San Francisco were Santa Cruz City Councilman John Laird and Monterey County Supervisor Karin Strasser-Kauffmann. In the end, advisory lanes were established 50 miles offshore alongside spill preparedness measures, including response equipment at Moss Landing Power Plant, which PG&E still owned, though it stopped using oil in favor of natural gas it receives from inland pipelines.
State and federal laws approved in the wake of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska, and the 1990 American Trader spill off Huntington Beach, provided tools to prevent, and respond to, future disasters. Equally powerful were the televised images from those spills, which fueled public concern.
Intertidal invertebrates and Presidential election support for the largest boundary alternative for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary grew and was bi-
partisan. A letter promoting it was sent to the administration of President George H.W. Bush by Congressmen Leon Panetta and Tom Campbell, a Republican from Silicon Valley, plus State Senators, Republican John Seymour and Democrat Alan Cranston. Republican Gov. Pete Wilson was also a supporter. But approval of this larger area was contingent on documented evidence that it contained a continuous, diverse ecosystem. A case was made using profiles of the region’s biology produced by a consortium of six Central Coast counties, coordinated by Marin County planner Warner Chabot. Its board had one representative from each county, including Monterey County Supervisor Marc Del Piero and Santa Cruz County Supervisor Gary Patton. Its work was supported by offshore drilling revenues distributed to counties to mitigate its impact.
Chabot built a map of the region’s biology to gauge what would be harmed by offshore oil development. It supplemented biotic inventories kept by resource managers. It also boosted the case for stretching the sanctuary’s boundary north from Santa Cruz to the southern boundary of the Gulf of the Farallones (re-named Greater Farallones in 2014) National Marine Sanctuary. A key argument involved the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Moss Beach, north of Half Moon Bay. It is one of the most biologically diverse intertidal regions in California, said to be equal to Point Lobos in its complexity, and known for its diverse population of invertebrates.
Bob Breen, Fitzgerald’s naturalist, and ranger from 1969 to 2004 told me this for my Santa Cruz Sentinel “Our Ocean Backyard” column in 2010: “Moss Beach is the last large and complex rocky intertidal below the Golden Gate and has a number of attributes. These were the presence of six endemic species and 25 species new to science discovered here.