Biden proposes new sanctuary off California coast
U.S. President Joe Biden has proposed a new national marine sanctuary off the coast of central California.
If approved, the 5,617-square-mile area would be designated the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary, and be the 16th national sanctuary in the U.S.
“The proposed sanctuary is rich in marine life and includes kelp forests, rocky shores, sandy beaches, a globally-significant ecological transition zone and important offshore features that have been important to Chumash and other Indigenous communities for more than 10,000 years,” NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries Director John Armor said. “The sanctuary would also enhance conservation of numerous rare and endangered species that depend on this area, including snowy plovers, black abalone, southern sea otters, blue whales, and leatherback sea turtles.”
The sanctuary would be located between existing protected areas, and the government claims its establishment would create “ecological connectivity and protected corridors for fish and wildlife.”
The area was first nominated as a sanctuary in 2015, although NOAA did not begin the designation process until 2021. Local groups, led by the the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, have been pushing for a sanctuary in the region since the 1980s.
This would be the first national marine sanctuary nomination led by an Indigeneous tribe. According to the proposal, the government plans to manage the sanctuary in collaboration with the Chumash and Salinan tribes.
“The proposed sanctuary represents a momentous opportunity to involve, recognize, and celebrate Indigenous peoples’ values, knowledge, traditions, and modern day cultural connections to the area,” NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad said. “It also advances the goals of the Biden-Harris administration’s America the Beautiful initiative, which recommends expanding the national marine sanctuary system, as well as supporting Indigenous- and locally-led conservation.”
Public comments can be submitted through 25 October. In-person public comment meetings will be held in California on 25 and 27 September, with a virtual public comment meeting on 12 October.
A final decision on whether to designate the area as a sanctuary is expected in mid-2024.
The proposed sanctuary would build on the Biden administration’s conservation agenda, including its goal to conserve 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030.
“Since taking office, President Biden has launched the most ambitious climate and conservation agenda in history,” U.S Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said. “In addition to protecting critical ecological and cultural sites, this proposed sanctuary would advance President Biden’s commitment to conserving at least 30 percent of U.S. ocean waters by the end of the decade.”
Photo courtesy of NOAA