New Chumash Heritage Marine Sanctuary Proposed off California Coast
The first tribally nominated marine sanctuary has been proposed by the Biden administration in collaboration with the Chumash tribe. The Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary would span 5,600 square miles off the coast of central California. The project is now undergoing a public comment period.
The sanctuary would include an area off a 156-mile stretch of coastline between Cambria in San Luis Obispo County and Gaviota Creek in Santa Barbara County. The area includes Lisamu’, a sacred Chumash site, along with a 3,000-meter-deep submarine canyon and feeding and migration areas for 13 whale and dolphin species.
“Sanctuaries uplift local participation in ocean management, and this sanctuary will put Indigenous communities in partnership with NOAA,” Violet Sage Walker, chairwoman of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council and a nominator of the sanctuary, said in a statement. “The collective knowledge of the Central Coast’s First Peoples, as well as other local stakeholders, scientists, and policymakers, will create a strong foundation to have a thriving coast for generations to come.”
The Northern Chumash Tribal Council first began preparing a proposal in 2013 and submitted a finalized proposal for a 7,600-square-mile marine sanctuary in 2015. But as NPR reported, the application didn’t receive attention for years. Walker explained that her father, Fred Collins, had initially submitted the proposal. Collins died one month before the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced it would consider the proposed region for dedication in 2021.
The proposal was reduced from 7,600 square miles to 5,600 square miles, because NOAA said the original proposed area may be used for wind energy development. The sanctuary protections would prevent energy and oil development within the boundary, but commercial fishing would still be allowed.
The Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary may be managed via the Intergovernmental Policy Council, a group including federally-recognized tribes and potentially the California Natural Resources Agency and NOAA. This management plan was based on the IPC developed for the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.
“This sanctuary has support from the federal and state governments, but most importantly from the communities that have lived on its shores for thousands of years,” said Steve Palumbi, professor at Stanford Hopkins Marine Station who is working with the Northern Chumash Tribal Council for conservation efforts in the proposed sanctuary. “Combining Traditional Ecological Knowledge with new data from western science is a journey that enriches our view of the ocean and ourselves.”
NOAA has opened the project to public comment through Oct. 25, 2023 and is targeting the finalized designation in 2024.