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Proposed national marine sanctuary named for Chumash advances to public comment

Jalama Beach is a popular destination for surfing, sport fishing enthusiasts and beachcombers.
Robert Schwemmer, NOAA
Jalama Beach is a popular destination for surfing, sport fishing enthusiasts and beachcombers.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A federal agency is taking a step toward designating a new national marine sanctuary off the central California coast that would be named for the region's Indigenous people.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced Tuesday that it is seeking public comment on the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary.

The designation would apply to 7,000 square miles of ocean off San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.

“Successfully designating the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary will protect ocean life, sacred Chumash sites, strengthen Indigenous communities and serve as a model of environmental justice,” said Violet Sage Walker, vice chairwoman of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council. “Today’s announcement marks a major milestone after more than 40 years of tireless advocacy for ocean protection, and also represents the first tribally-nominated sanctuary in the nation.”

The area’s ecosystems are rich in wildlife, provide habitat for threatened and endangered animals and serve as nurseries for commercially and recreationally fished species.

“The proposed sanctuary will recognize and preserve Chumash tribal heritage, protect the area’s rich biodiversity, and build resilience to changing ocean conditions,”said Rick Spinrad, NOAA Administrator.

The proposed area stretches along 156 miles of coastline, encompassing approximately 7,670-square miles from Santa Rosa Creek near Cambria, San Luis Obispo County, south to Gaviota Creek in Santa Barbara County, and extends offshore to include Santa Lucia Bank, Rodriguez Seamount, and Arguello Canyon.

The designation was proposed in 2015 by the Northern Chumash Tribal Council. The plan has been endorsed by Rep. Salud Carbajal (CA-24), Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA).

The public can comment on the proposed sanctuary designation until Jan. 10, 2022 by visiting the Federal eRulemaking Portal. NOAA will also host several virtual public meetings in December and January.

For more information on the proposed sanctuary, click here.

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