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NOAA-Proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary excludes Morro Bay, here's why

Now is the time to voice your opinion on the Proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary that encompasses both SLO and Santa Barbara Counties. NOAA's preferred proposal excludes Morro Bay.
Posted at 6:43 PM, Sep 07, 2023

Violet Sage-Walker is the Northern Chumash Tribal Council Chairwoman and a key player in getting the Central Coast nominated for a marine sanctuary.

“My father put in the nomination for the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary,” explained Sage-Walker about her late father. “It was a nomination that originally started nearly 40 years ago and hadn't been fulfilled. ”

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), this is the first marine sanctuary nominated by a tribe.

“We have an area that is super critical habitat to migrating whales to the southern sea otters to the commercial fishing industry that is critical to protect for the future,” added Sage-Walker.

NOAA has released a draft environmental impact statement and a draft management plan to allow the public to participate in deciding the future of this sanctuary.

“The sanctuary is addressing two priorities for this administration and for the state of California, and that's renewable energy, offshore wind and 30 by 30 to conserve and protect 30% of land and water by 2030,” said Paul Michel, who is the NOAA Sanctuaries West Coast Regional Policy Coordinator.

NOAA is proposing a map that is different from the original one submitted by the Northern Chumash Tribal Council.

The agency’s preferred sanctuary map encompasses around 5,617 square miles from Montaña de Oro to Naples, California along the Gaviota coastline. The main difference is that it excludes Morro Bay.

“The Morro Bay wind energy area, when that gets developed, they'll need to bring that energy to shore and a corridor to the Morro Bay power plant and connect to the grid,” explained Michel. “What we've been told by both the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is that there could be as many as 30 cables in that corridor, maybe some substations as well.”

The original map proposed by the Northern Chumash Tribal Council covers 7,600 square miles.

“The Chumash, are deeply connected to Morro Rock,” said Sage-Walker. “That is one of our sacred points.”

The Northern Chumash Tribal Council is hoping the offshore wind industry can work with the sanctuary, so Morro Bay is not left behind.

“[The] sanctuary is actually considering the interface and the relationship with offshore wind energy in the future, so those are issues that have been and will be continued to be taken into consideration and at the end of the day, it's meant to be a win, win, win,” said Rep. Salud Carbajal, (D) District 24.

A group expressing their concerns over the sanctuary designation are local fishermen.

“We're not proposing to regulate fishing, so I know that's a concern of the fishermen, but we leave it to the federal and state fishery managers to make those decisions on fishery,” said Michel.

Tom Hafer shared a statement on behalf of the Alliance of Communities for Sustainable Fisheries (ACSF), which states the following:

“We request that the council question sanctuary officials as to whether or not they intend on taking actions, even if indirect, that will lead to fishery closures or restrictions. Or, will it respect fishing assurances in the spirit they were first given? Last, the ACSF requests further clarity as to what “co-management” with the tribes, both federally recognized and other tribal organizations, means.”

NOAA is planning to make a decision by the summer of 2024. The goal is to eventually create an advisory council, build visitor centers, and set up volunteer programs.

“We all love our ocean resources very much,” said Dawn Ortiz-Legg, the SLO County Supervisor for District Three. “However, I think it's important for people to read through the NOAA document and particularly ocean users, whether it's recreational, the Fisher community, or any of the others that may be utilizing the ocean really need to take a look at that report and weigh in with their public comments. ”

While the proposal takes its course, the Northern Chumash Tribal Council is working with a professor from Stanford University. They plan to test ocean water before and after the sanctuary designation moves forward.

“We're here to take water samples and every little bit of water has tiny little bits of plants and animals in it,” said Biology Professor Steve Palumbi. “Those tiny little bits have DNA, so we get the DNA […] we can tell what's in the water around here.”

Community members have an opportunity to weigh in on this proposed sanctuary. The deadline to submit public comments is October 25, 2023.

“This is a time when we can highlight our culture, the value we can add to conserving our coasts and homeland, and at the same time we can help fight climate change,” said Sage-Walker.

NOAA is hosting the following informational workshops:

  • Monday, Sept. 11, 2023, at 5 p.m. at the Grover Beach Community Center located at 1230 Trouville Ave, Grover Beach, CA 93433.
  • Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023, at 6 p.m. at the Vista Del Mar School Union located at 9467 San Julian Rd, Gaviota, CA 93117.
  • Friday, Sept. 15, 2023, at 11 a.m, but this one will be virtual. The link is: https://meet.google.com/mfp-nkgm-gek

NOAA is also hosting the following public comment meetings:

  • Monday, Sept. 25, 2023, at 5 p.m. at the County of San Luis Obispo Board of Supervisors Hearing Room located at 1055 Monterey Street, San Luis Obispo, CA 93408.
  • Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, at 5 p.m. at the Dick DeWees Community Center located at 1120 West Ocean Avenue, Lompoc, CA 93436.
  • Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023, at 1 p.m., but this one will be virtual. You can register here: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/7569323252287031132

To learn more about the proposal, draft environmental impact statement, and draft management plan, click here.