A new national marine sanctuary is one step closer to being established to protect ocean waters, habitats and cultural resources from Cambria to just north of Gaviota.
However, that process is not on the agenda for two meetings in Cambria on Friday, Oct. 23, of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary staff and advisory council.
The Northern Chumash Tribal Council learned Oct. 5 that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries had determined that a nomination for the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary has been “added to the inventory of areas NOAA may consider in the future for national marine sanctuary designation.”
The Chumash were notified in a letter from John Armor, acting director of the marine sanctuaries office.
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The new sanctuary, if approved as proposed, would stretch from Cambria to just north of Gaviota.
It will fill in a protected-waters gap between the Monterey Bay and Channel Islands sanctuaries.
Supporters say designation for the area would preserve unique cultural and natural resources and permanently prevent offshore oil and gas development in the protected area, according to an economic report prepared last year.
Among those cultural resources are vast stretches of land and sea that Chumash and other Native American tribes consider sacred, with history and significance that span many centuries. Chumash were accomplished mariners and fisherfolk who traveled to the Channel Islands by canoe.
Second time around
It is the second go-round for the NOAA review of the Chumash proposal. In February, the first submission was determined to be incomplete, and it was returned so the Chumash council and other supporters could refine the proposal.
A similar area was suggested for sanctuary status in the early 1990s, receiving significant support.
NOAA reviewed the revised Chumash nomination and determined that it “meets the national significance criteria and management considerations,” Armor wrote.
While it’s “one more step on the way to designation” of the new marine sanctuary, Margaret “P.J.” Webb of Cambria said Friday after hearing the news, there’s still a “huge public participatory process ahead. But this is the keyhole, the big door we had to get through” to take the sanctuary proposal to the next levels.
In fact, there’ll be an entirely separate, extensive public scoping process for the Chumash proposal, according to Dawn Hayes, deputy superintendent and operations coordinator for the Monterey sanctuary.
Opposition is expected to come from fishing, oil and other commercial interests. The Port San Luis Harbor District has already taken a stance against the nomination.
Webb, an attorney who chairs the advisory council for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, is participating in the Chumash nomination process as a private citizen who supports the concept of the new marine sanctuary.
The Monterey Bay advisory council is to meet from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, Oct. 23, at the Veterans Memorial Building, 1000 Main St., Cambria, receiving a series of updates and presentations on various topics, including wildlife disturbance, water quality and a report on the southern region.
Agency staff will hold a second session there from 6 to 8 p.m. about updating the sanctuary’s management plan. But, despite recent news on the possible Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary, the status and future of that possible preserve isn’t to be a focus of attention at either meeting.
The sanctuary covers 276 miles of shoreline and 4,601 square nautical miles of the Pacific, from mid-Cambria to Marin County.
For more information on the council meeting, contact Nichole Rodriguez at (831) 647-4206 or Nichole.Rodriguez@noaa.gov.
The preliminary agenda for the management plan review includes as priority topics: climate change, wildlife disturbance, water-quality protection, visitor centers, citizen science and marine debris.
The public is also asked to offer comments on potential regulatory changes aimed “at better protecting the sanctuary’s marine resources and maritime heritage assets,” according to an agency release.
For details, go to http://montereybay.noaa.gov/intro/mp/2015review/documents.html# mpr-noi.
At both upcoming meetings, the public also will be invited to comment on any topic of concern related to the Monterey Bay sanctuary.