The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently released draft documents to designate the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary offshore of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.
The sanctuary would consist of 5,617 square miles of marine waters along 134 miles, stretching from Hazard Canyon Reef at the north end of Montaña de Oro State Park to just south of Dos Pueblos Canyon, the NOAA said.
The nomination for the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary — submitted in 2015 by a coalition, led by the Northern Chumash Tribal Council of community leaders, organizations and businesses — was based on an earlier proposal form the 1980s.
The Northern Chumash Tribal Council said that during the NOAA’s initial designation scoping process in January 2022, more than 30,000 people, including residents, tribal and environmental justice leaders, elected officials and more, expressed support for the sanctuary.
It would be the first national marine sanctuary developed with “meaningful tribal engagement from its inception,” according to the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, who are set to be a collaborative manager with the NOAA.
“This area, rich in natural resources including kelp forests, rocky shores, sandy beaches, a globally significant ecological transition zone, and important offshore features, has been important to Chumash and other tribes and Indigenous communities for more than 10,000 years,” the NOAA said in a recent news release. “Numerous rare and endangered species depend on this area, including snowy plovers, black abalone, southern sea otters, blue whales, and leatherback sea turtles.”
As the only federally recognized Chumash tribe, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians will work with the NOAA and the state to manage the sanctuary through the Intergovernmental Policy Council, as laid out in the draft management plan, released as part of the draft designation.
There will also be a Sanctuary Advisory Council and an Indigenous Cultures Advisory Panel for the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary, through which the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians said it will work with other non-federally recognized Chumash groups.
Sam Cohen, government affairs and legal officer for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, told Noozhawk that once the management plan is finalized, plans will be created for protections of oceanic species, climate change, and protection of Native American sacred and cultural sites and other historic properties, such as shipwrecks.
“We are excited to see the designation of the Chumash Heritage Sanctuary moving forward,” Northern Chumash Tribal Council chairwoman Violet Sage Walker said. “Sanctuaries uplift local participation in ocean management, and this sanctuary will put Indigenous communities in partnership with NOAA. 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 NOAA is accepting public comment on the draft designation documents through Oct. 25.
To provide information on the proposed sanctuary, the NOAA will be holding two in-person informational workshops — at 5 p.m. Monday, Sept. 11 at the Grover Beach Community Center and at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 12 at Vista Del Mar Union School District in Gaviota — and one online workshop at 11 a.m. Friday, Sept. 15.
After those meetings, the NOAA will be holding in-person public comment meetings in San Luis Obispo on Sept. 25 and in Lompoc on Sept. 27, as well as an online public comment meeting on Oct. 12.
More information on how to submit public comment or on the informational and public comment meetings is available on NOAA’s website here.
Once the public comment period has concluded, the NOAA will be preparing final designation documents through this year, with a goal of publishing them in 2024, and sanctuary designation is targeted for 2024.