Comment Sought on Proposed Marine Sanctuary Off of California Coast

Deepwater bubblegum coral
Deepwater bubblegum coral, a host for California king crab, observed during the 2020 E/V Nautilus exploration of the Santa Lucia Bank. Corals and sponges that make up the area’s seafloor habitats provide food and shelter for recreationally and commercially important fish species. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

NOAA Fisheries is seeking public comment to initiate development of a draft plan for a new national marine sanctuary in a 7,000-square-mile area off the central California coast, adjacent to San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.

The action, in the wake of President Biden’s Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, would create the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary to protect the region’s marine ecosystem, maritime heritage resources and cultural values of indigenous communities.

The National Marine Sanctuaries Act allows NOAA to designate and protect marine and Great Lakes environments with special national significance. The approach includes conserving and restoring ocean and coastal habitats, supporting tribally and locally led stewardship and advancing offshore wind and other clean energy projects.

According to Brenda Mallory, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the recent oil spill off the California coast is a costly and harmful reminder of the need to do more to protect coastal communities from threats.“The Chumash Heritage sanctuary proposal and the Morro Bay wind energy area provide an opportunity for communities to help shape how we both protect the region’s extraordinary marine and cultural resources and harness the ocean’s clean energy potential,” Mallory said.

NOAA is requesting specific input on the sanctuary name, boundary, compatible uses, threats a new sanctuary would address, how to best promote marine science and education initiatives and other topics. Comments are due by Jan. 10 through the Federal eRulemaking Portal, The docket number is NOAA-NOS-2021-0080-0001.