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Proposed New Marine Sanctuary off California’s Central Coast Progresses

We’ve been keeping an eye on the progress of a proposed new national marine sanctuary off California’s Central Coast: the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary. The nomination was made in 2015 by the Northern Chumash Tribal Council (NCTC) as a way to protect the region’s marine resources and ecosystems, stimulate research and economic growth, and protect the Indigenous communities’ cultural values.

The proposed sanctuary stretches along 152 miles of coastline adjacent to San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. It would provide a haven for marine mammals, invertebrates, sea birds, and fish. It would also create an overarching framework for community-based spatial management for many threats, and recognize Indigenous and tribal history and culture in the area.

proposed NOAA Marine Sanctuary
NOAA is currently reviewing all public comments, and a team of staff are drafting a management plan and environmental impact statement based on all comments received.
© 2022 NOAA

The area is known for its extensive kelp forests, vast sandy beaches and coastal dunes, and wetlands serving as nursery grounds for numerous commercial fish species, and includes important habitat for many threatened and endangered species such as blue whales, southern sea otter, black abalone, snowy plovers, and leatherback sea turtles. Numerous threats have been identified to resources within the proposed area, and proponents believe a national marine sanctuary offers solutions in guiding coordinated and comprehensive ecosystem-based management, including organizing and stimulating marine research, education, stewardship, tourism, and recreation, as well as providing protection for important native cultural sites.

The proposed area also holds many nationally significant shipwrecks throughout this maritime landscape. One such wreck is the USCG Cutter McCulloch, which sank off Point Conception after colliding with the passenger steamship SS Governor on June 13, 1917.

The helm aboard the sunken USCG Cutter McCulloch.
© 2022 NOAA/USCG/VideoRay

At this point the “Designation Process,” as it’s called, is still in the early stages. The process, broken down into six steps, is currently at step two — Review of Public Comments and Preparation of Draft Documents. The plan is to have this completed sometime between December and the early part of 2023, at which point it will be released for public comment. The end goal is to have the sanctuary “designated” by winter 2023, so around a year from now. Clearly things don’t move quickly, and when you consider that the sanctuary was proposed in 2015, well, it’s still less than a decade-long process, so far. That said, we do appreciate the efforts of NOAA and all the individuals and partner agencies involved; change is never easy, and on a large scale it’s even harder to instigate.

There are numerous marine sanctuaries in California, many of which we’ve written about in the past. We’ll continue to follow the progress of the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary. In the meantime, if you’d like to know more about the proposal, go to


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