Forty years ago last week, in 1972, Congress passed what is now known as the National Marine Sanctuaries Act and established the National Marine Sanctuaries System. Just eight years later, in 1980, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration designated our own Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, the third in what is currently a national system of 14 sites.
Encircling five of the offshore Channel Islands, our sanctuary is a local and national treasure, a Chumash homeland and very special place. Teeming with an incredible diversity of marine life, it’s a natural place for adventure where locals and visitors can enjoy world-class fishing, whale watching, kayaking, sailing, scuba diving and even a trip to the Channel Islands National Park. There’s also known and yet to be discovered historic shipwrecks, right here in our very own backyard, beckoning the adventurous to have a look.
The sanctuary’s eco-minded management provides us with clean waters and well-protected habitats that help serve up top-quality local seafood and support many important jobs in our coastal community.
Local sanctuary programs, such as the Multicultural Education for Resource Issues Threatening Oceans (MERITO) program, have inspired and engaged our schools and students.
On campus at UC Santa Barbara, the Outreach Center for Teaching Ocean Science (OCTOS) is being built, and will offer many exciting programs along with hands-on interactive technology to inspire, stimulate and educate our children, students and adults about ocean science and conservation. Future OCTOS students will see firsthand some of the most advanced marine science tools available to further the cause and advancement of conservation efforts at an incredible pace.
Even more good news! Just a little south of Santa Barbara at the Channel Islands Harbor, the doors will soon open at a new boating center, aptly named the Channel Islands Boating Center. The center will highlight the wonders of the sanctuary and teach the importance of safe and environmentally responsible boating.
So, the outlook is promising. The sanctuary system and, in particular, the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, will be an important part of our community’s future. We’re coming into exciting times. Our sanctuary is a national treasure to enjoy now and for future generations — 1,470 square miles of ocean will remain protected from further offshore oil development, always managed with a forward-thinking, ecosystem-based approach. The success here and at other sanctuaries has spurred requests to add even more needed national marine sanctuaries around the country.
Our sanctuary has proven to be a living example of how protected areas can thrive by supporting a healthy ecosystem, a healthy economy and a beautiful and stunning place to visit. The future looks very bright indeed, as long as we all remember that our national marine sanctuaries belong to everyone, and never lose sight of that.
Locally, I encourage you to get involved, whether through volunteering your time as a Channel Islands Naturalist Corps volunteer or with the Sanctuary Advisory Council. It’s easy to learn more about the sanctuary through a visit to local venues such as the Ty Warner Sea Center, the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum or the Outdoors Santa Barbara Visitors Center. Better yet, head out to the gateway of our Channel Islands, your local beaches, to experience your very own sanctuary adventure.
There are many local companies to help you venture out to sea aboard a sailing or power boat to see up close the largest animal on the planet — the blue whale — along with many other cetaceans, such as orcas and dolphins. We even have sea otters. How about a glass-bottom boat, an amphibious tour vehicle, or grab a board, kayak, mask, snorkel and fins and jump on in!
As a member of your community, ocean enthusiast and supporter for more than 38 years, I’m very proud to be helping our local Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary in my new role with the Channel Islands Sanctuary Foundation. The foundation is a nonprofit organization committed to advancing the understanding and protection of the sanctuary. Let’s all do our part to experience, contribute to and benefit from the good fortune of having a national marine sanctuary in our own backyard.