The designation of the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary is moving forward in its nomination.
Public comment is now open for the community to get involved in setting boundaries and selecting a name.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), marine sanctuaries are an effort to protect wildlife and promote scientific research.
For Violet Sage Walker, the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary is a lifelong project.
“The Point Conception which we believe is the Western gate where all of our souls leave this earth into the next life," explained Walker, who is the current Northern Chumash Tribal Council Chairwoman. “We were told by our ancestors to protect this place.”
The nomination was made by her father, Fred Collins, in 2015. Collins passed away in October 2021.
“I wish I would've been able to give him the good news myself, but I think he is with us, he can hear us, he feels that we are doing the right thing,” added Walker.
The proposal is looking to protect 156 miles of coastline from Santa Rosa Creek in Cambria to Gaviota Creek.
“Not only the species that are iconic such as whales and sea birds but also the habitats, so the rocky shores, the beaches, offshore areas, deep-sea quarrels all fall under our protection,” explained Paul Michel, who is the regional policy coordinator for NOAA Sanctuaries West Coast Region.
This has been an ongoing battle for over 30 years.
“We do not need any more government coming in here and that’s all a sanctuary is,” said Jeremiah O’Brien, vice-president of the Morro Bay Commercial Fishermen’s Organization. “It's federal government coming in to control things.”
Another concern for fishermen is the Morro Bay wind energy area, which is not included as a protected area in this sanctuary nomination.
“The fishermen right now are going to lose 400 square miles of territory to wind energy,” said O’Brien.
Michel said sanctuary users must engage in clean boating practices.
“Our regulations prohibit any discharge from the boats into the sanctuary unless they are part of lawful fishing,” explained Michel. “We do not regulate fishing, what we do is promote the area for sustainable recreation and tourism.”
The Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary would cover a 7,670 square-mile area and be located between the Monterey Bay and Channel Islands marine sanctuaries.
“If you’re a kayaker, if you’re a surfer, if you’re a fisher, if you take your grandkids down to the water, you want that water to be clean,” said P.J. Webb, an advisor to the Northern Chumash Tribal Council.
Marine sanctuaries usually have visitor centers, trails, and volunteer programs. Public comment will be available until January 10, 2021.
“The intent here is to collaborate with tribal entities and make them a central part of what we do in the area. Everything from managing the sanctuary through science and education, resource protection,” said Michel.
The goal is also to recognize Chumash tribal history.
“To carry on the legacy of my father and elders in protecting this will be one of the biggest accomplishments of my life,” concluded Walker.
According to NOAA, the entire process can take around two years to be able to fully designate a site as a marine sanctuary.
NOAA will host three virtual workshops to engage with the community. Dates and registration links can be found here.
Those interested can also send letters and emails to NOAA.