Indigenous Peoples have a unique perspective. When incorporated with science, our perspectives highlight Grandmother Ocean’s life and connectivity in a living matrix of thrivability. The connectivity of life in Grandmother Ocean needs our assistance in understanding ways to support the life force of our Grandmother Ocean, in these times. This is an opportunity, for all communities along our coast to support the most unique and diverse Grandmother Ocean coast, and it is the time for all of us to assist NOAA in the journey to a “one of a kind Marine Sanctuary."
Since the initial NOAA approval of the nomination in 2015, national security and defense issues have grown in importance. Threats to national security from pandemic pressures, international conflicts and economic instability increase the need to sustain a security buffer. As an area of Department of Defense activities, a national marine sanctuary would be very compatible with bolstering our nation’s security zone.
The need for comprehensive spatial management with the adjacent established sanctuaries has increased with the impacts of climate change in this unique Transition Zone, a steep thermal gradient and overlap between the Oregonian and Californian Faunal Provinces. A rare persistent upwelling, it is critically important as a feeding hotspot for marine life migrating through the west coast National Marine sanctuaries. The importance of the California Current upwelling to the thrivability of the ocean’s flora and fauna is impacted by a lack of oversight for comprehensive management. Research is desperately needed in this ecological hotspot. Collapse of these important regional resources would have socioeconomic and ecological impacts that could be devastating. This sanctuary would enhance and expand efforts to understand climate impacts on the Transition Zone and develop strategies for building resilience in our backyard and world-wide.
Our communities and businesses rely on the health of the ocean for tourism, recreation, education, indigenous ceremonial events, research/learning institutions, and fisheries. All these important socio-economic drivers form the cornerstones of our region. The Dungeness crab fishery is an important indicator of threats. Research released in January 2020 concluded that this lucrative fishery is experiencing severe carapace dissolution in larval crabs, resulting in structural deformities. This dissolution is estimated to increase 10% in two decades due to atmospheric carbon dioxide. Another 2020 study found the rate of ocean acidification in our region has exceeded the estimated global average by more than a factor of two. (See Appendix.) As indicators of climate change and potential economic collapse, resource protection and resilience strategies are urgently needed and may serve to proactively inform other sanctuaries of possible countermeasures.
We continue to have broad-based support in the region and look forward to delivering continuing letters of support for the nomination; the Chumash Nation and local communities working together and listening to the Chumash Nation to fortify the “must” movement to reverse the impacts from ocean acidification, runoff and sewer waters, industrial dumping, fracking, seismic testing for oil, offshore vessel waste disposal and much more. We look forward to continued collaboration with national marine sanctuaries.
The following is an Appendix of natural, cultural, historical and management elements that should be considered and explored to update the nomination and extend the approval sufficiently to commence the designation process.
National significance criteria
(1) The area’s natural resources and ecological qualities are of special significance and contribute to: Biological productivity or diversity; maintenance or enhancement of ecosystem structure and function; maintenance of ecologically or commercially important species or species assemblages; maintenance or enhancement of critical habitat, representative biogeographic assemblages, or both; or maintenance or enhancement of connectivity to other ecologically significant resources.
Biological and Biogeographic Diversity
We ask that NOAA analyze the changes in this crucial region since our 2015 nomination to determine the status of its biological and biogeographic diversity and the impacts of climate change. The socioeconomic value of this region’s resources and services needs to be updated to reflect the changes in the last 5 years. A Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary is needed to develop and enhance research and monitoring to build strategies for climate change resilience in this significant region.
A known biogeographic boundary, Humqaq (Point Conception), marks the intersection between cold, saline coastally upwelled water and the warm, less saline, oligotrophic waters of the offshore California Current. This transition zone provides ecological services, important commercial resources and a climate change indicator.
“The proposed Sanctuary region is the boundary between two very different regions of the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem. This boundary separates very different ecological communities and very different physical regions. Its dynamics are incredibly sensitive to climatic variation. Changes in the boundary region foretell major changes that will occur elsewhere along the coast, albeit much more slowly. The dynamics of this ecological region provide a critical ocean laboratory for studies of our nation’s and the world’s coastal ocean.”
– Dr. Stephen Gaines, Bren School of Environmental Science and Management
Environmental Science and Management
The unique oceanographic combination of the mile-deep Arguello Canyon, the Santa Lucia Bank upthrust and the Rodriguez Seamount, along with the meeting place of three major tectonic plates, contributes to the special significance of this area.
More research and monitoring is necessary to understand the dynamics of this critically important region due to its ecological and biological productivity and diversity, vital to the maintenance and enhancement of the connectivity to the California Current and upwelling.
The functioning of this food web is foundational to ecological and economical systems.
(2) The area contains submerged maritime heritage resources of special historical, cultural, or archaeological significance, that: Individually or collectively are consistent with the criteria of eligibility or listing on the National Register of Historic Places; have met or which would meet the criteria for designation as a National Historic Landmark; or have special or sacred meaning to the indigenous people of the region or nation.
Historical and Cultural
We ask that NOAA consider new developments in this region since our 2015 nomination to update new discoveries to the potential submerged historic and cultural sites. There is so much more to learn about the historic and cultural sites in this area and develop policies for outreach, education and, above all, protection. New non-intrusive methods are available to gather information to protect sites. Sanctuary designation provides more protection than other options and is vital to maintain the time immemorial story of our Chumash People, a sophisticated and complex maritime society integral to this region and the world’s Indigenous People.
Indigenous People Sacred Sites
Humqaq (Point Conception) is a sacred site for the Chumash and other Indigenous
People. Oral history from many diverse Indigenous people recognizes the role of the Chumash as the Keepers of the Western Gate and honors the sacred waters of the Western Gate’s sacred importance nationally and internationally (all souls travel through the Chumash Lands to Humqaq and then on to the west, over our Grandmother Ocean to the ancestors spiritual lands).
A key mandate of ONMS is to explore, access and protect submerged resources. Sanctuary protection can provide protection for Chumash heritage submerged cultural sacred sites.
New methods of remotely sensed data collection are effective and efficient, so the tools are available to gather information for ancient submerged cultural sites and artifacts while protecting them.
“The National Marine Sanctuaries Act includes strong enforcement tools to protect sanctuary resources including underwater cultural heritage…. Our ability to more fully understand the behaviors of early maritime peoples, including the timing and nature of the peopling of the New World (settler colonialization) may very well depend on locating the data that has been submerged for the last 15,000 years.”
“Prehistoric Archaeology Underwater: A Nascent Subdiscipline Critical to Understanding Early Coastal Occupations and Migration Routes.” [www.researchgate.net/publication/226631271]
The vital importance and protection of these underwater heritage sites has gained prominence in the last 5 years among the scientific community and NOAA. (“Closing the Gaps in the Law Protecting Underwater Cultural Heritage on the Outer Continental Shelf” https://law.stanford.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/varmer.pdf)
“Underwater heritage sites include artifacts and their associated contextual information, which should be kept intact so that present and future generations can continue to learn about our history and culture through non-intrusive research.” (2018) The Case for Using the Law of Salvage to Preserve Underwater Cultural Heritage: The Integrated Marriage of the Law of Salvage and Historic Preservation” https://www.gc.noaa.gov/pdfs/Blanco.pdf
Underwater Historical Shipwrecks
“Point Conception had always been a common place for shipwrecks.” (Robert Schwemmer, NOAA). Since 2015, shipwrecks have been discovered by NOAA joining the historic Montebello and many other historic shipwrecks in the region.
One example is Coast Guard cutter McCulloch, a world-traveled vessel historically significant shipwreck in America’s U.C. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy’s military history (2016) https://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/shipwrecks/mcculloch/
(3) Adverse impacts from current or future uses and activities threaten the area’s significance, values, qualities, and resources.
We ask that NOAA consider the changes in this crucial region over the past five years to analyze the additional projects and proposed policy changes affecting California’s Central Coast that could have a direct impact on the proposed sanctuary and which NOAA should take into account in updating its evaluation of management consideration.
Humqaq (Point Conception) Possible Threats
There have been a number of proposed policy changes and projects over the last five years affecting California’s Central Coast that could have a direct impact on the proposed sanctuary area and which NOAA should take into account in updating its evaluation of management considerations. The area has faced and continues to face threats such as the proposed 1978 liquefied natural gas development and the 2007 Baupost Group/Klarman acquisition for onshore slant drilling and real estate development, endangering this onshore and offshore sacred site.
The California Coastal Commission recognized the importance of this area in its staff report re: a Cease and Desist at the location of the former Cojo Marine Terminal (2017), along with a long list of impacts to documented Chumash cultural sites and damaging impacts to the watershed and coastal zone. Violations included: removal of major vegetation and the placement of solid material associated with the installation and maintenance of thirty seven water wells; grading and removal of major vegetation resulting from the development of roads; fill of a riparian area, placement of riprap, installation of a culvert, installation of a concrete spillway, and landform alteration associated with the redesign of three stock ponds; the placement of cut and fill materials and grading related to the construction of a road down a bluff face; and changes in the intensity of use and major vegetation removal.
The Commission wrote: “Chumash settlements in bays and beaches along the coast in this region date back to nearly 7000 B.C., and one of the largest known Chumash villages in California is located on the Ranch property. In addition to the important cultural heritage associated with the presence of these significant settlements on the Ranch and surrounding areas, the geographic extent of the Ranch includes Point Conception, a site of great spiritual import considered by the Chumash to be the western gate to heaven. . . The biological richness, importance of the location to the tradition and culture of the Chumash people, and the onsite historic ranching operations thus uniquely position the Ranch to occupy both a significant locus in California state heritage from both a cultural and ecological perspective.” https://documents.coastal.ca.gov/reports/2017/11/th18.1s/th18.1-s-11-2017-report.pdf
In April 2017, Executive Order 13795, “implementing an America-First Offshore Energy Strategy,” sought to expedite permits for offshore oil seismic surveys and ordered a review of national marine sanctuaries, including the two national marine sanctuaries immediately north and south of the proposed sanctuary, for the potential to exploit sanctuary areas for oil, gas, and methane hydrates and subsea minerals. The order also required reconsideration of the Well Control Rule mandating the use of effective blowout preventer systems, elimination of the system of independent safety equipment inspectors, and relaxing safety equipment testing and inspection standards in the name of easing “unnecessary regulatory burdens.”
Oil and Gas Leasing
In January 2018, the Interior Secretary proposed to open more than 90% of the Outer Continental Shelf to oil and gas leasing for the first time since 1984, including all of California’s coastal waters, the largest proposed increase in offshore oil drilling in U.S. history. San Luis Obispo County was one of the only coastal county or city governments in the state that declined to go on record opposing the plan.
Plains All American Pipeline
Santa Barbara County is currently reviewing a proposal by Plains All-American Pipeline to build a new 124 mile long coastal oil pipeline to facilitate the revival of offshore drilling platforms that were idled in 2015 by the rupture of a severely corroded Plains pipeline, causing a large oil spill off the Central Coast that killed hundreds of birds and marine mammals. ExxonMobil is also proposing to restart the dormant Central Coast offshore drilling platforms via a project to truck 4 million barrels of oil annually up a coastal highway and across Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Kern counties.
Interest in offshore wind energy development in and around the area of the proposed sanctuary has greatly increased over the last five years. The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the California Energy Commission have formed an Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force to meet with stakeholders. Dr. David Ainley, Senior Ecologist with the consulting firm H.T. Harvey & Associates, has stated that “Owing to much greater ocean productivity, seabird density/abundance in the California current are orders of magnitude greater than along U.S. East Coast or coastal Europe, from which most current information on impacts of off-shore wind generation is derived.” In response to the project proposals, environmental NGO’s have urged that ecologically sensitive areas such as migratory corridors between National Marine Sanctuaries and Marine Protected Areas and other ecologically important habitat be avoided, and noted that whales and seabirds are known to feed at Santa Lucia Bank, a key part of the nominated Sanctuary, during their annual migrations. Any such project should require the development of a better understanding of potential risks to seabirds and the potential for the physical structure and noise levels associated with the project to cause habitat loss and displacement. An in-depth assessment of the risk of entanglement of large whales and other species in mooring cables and anchors should be carried out, along with the effects of associated scour. (Research has shown that mooring cable anchors from other marine renewable energy technologies may significantly alter the seabed, particularly when wave conditions and wind speeds cause the cables and anchors to move and subsequently scour the seabed).
These impacts need to be quantitatively assessed for species and habitat throughout the lease area and over the project’s development life cycle, and resource agencies should model the potential species-level and ecosystem-level impacts and cumulative impacts arising from interactions between individual stressors (e.g. wind energy areas and shipping lanes) and the displacement of marine mammals that may increase their risk of entanglement in associated marine debris and their risk of ship strike.
(4) A national marine sanctuary would provide unique conservation and management value for this area that also have beneficial values for adjacent areas.
We ask that NOAA consider the importance of the biodiverse Transition Zone and the advantages of providing ecosystem-based management across the adjacent national marine sanctuaries in the California Current. This area is particularly suited to enhance conservation and management value for this vulnerable and remarkable area, preserving the rich food web, the diverse migrating wildlife, and importance to meteorological forecasting and science.
The complex, interconnected nature of the California Current at this confluence of two major ocean currents creates remarkable biodiversity. The California Current and persistent upwelling make this area critically important as a feeding hotspot for marine life migrating through the west coast National Marine sanctuaries.
Inclusion of this area into the network of adjacent sanctuaries will strengthen ecosystem management benefiting the dynamics of Channel Islands NMS, Monterey Bay NMS, Cordell Bank NMS, Greater Farallon’s NMS and the network of California MPAs. The unique confluence of this Transition Zone has grown in importance as climate change has accelerated in the past five years. Building resilience for surviving climate change is crucial and this Transition Zone is a key to understanding this. The ocean is a major driver of the world’s weather and climate. This Transition Zone constitutes a natural laboratory for forecasting weather and understanding climate change impacts.
There is an increasing recognition of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) in relation to science and climate change. Environmental interaction and observation have been relied upon
by the Chumash for tens of thousands of years. Combining Chumash ecological knowledge and observation with scientific inquiry not only serves scientific analysis, it brings a richness to the cultural outreach and education for a Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary and serves as an enhancement to other sanctuaries’ Indigenous populations. One example of this reliance on TEK was highlighted in California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment (2018).
The Tribal Community Summary warranted an extensive overview of tribal case studies of traditional land use methods and catalogued the importance of traditional ecological knowledge in the context of climate change, “…tribes have experienced presently-defined climate impacts for many generations. These impacts include, but are certainly not limited to, drought, air and water quality deterioration, sea level rise and inundation, food scarcity, supply chain vulnerabilities, increasingly severe weather and related disruptions and disasters, health impacts including shortened lifespans, dwindling wildlife numbers, deteriorating habitat conditions, soil erosion and threats to cultural resources.”
This assessment report explored how climate change will impact Tribal and Indigenous communities and how these communities are leading adaptation efforts. “California’s climate goals will be far easier to reach with tribes as co-management collaborators. This collaboration requires a respect and incorporation of tribal science and management practices (e.g. TEK).” https://www.energy.ca.gov/sites/default/files/2019-07/Statewide%20Reports-%20SUM-CCCA4-2018-010%20TribalCommunitySummary.pdf
Ocean acidification in the California Current Ecosystem was twice the global average during the past century and — influenced by decadal climate variations based in the Santa Barbara basin Research — suggests that ocean acidification is becoming particularly acute in coastal upwelling regions, such as the California Current Ecosystem (CCE), due to their low buffering capacity and the natural upwelling processes that bring CO2-rich intermediate waters to the ocean surface. (“Decadal variability in twentieth-century ocean acidification in the California Current Ecosystem,” January 2020.) https://www.researchgate.net/publication/337956510_Decadal_variability_in_twentieth-century_ocean_acidification_in_the_California_Current_Ecosystem
Ocean Acidification along the U.S. West Coast is intensifying, exceeding the estimated global average by more than a factor of two, threatening our food supply and highlighted by an important sector of our economy, Dungeness crab. This is particularly true in nearshore regions that experience a diminishing buffering capacity while at the same time providing important habitat for ecologically and economically significant species. As a very lucrative fishery, damage to the Dungeness crab population has a large impact on the ecosystem, food supply, and economic health of this region. The West Coast of the United States produces the greatest quantity of Dungeness crab, with California (37%) leading in the 2016 market. A recent study showed deformities in the larval crabs due to ocean acidification. (“Exoskeleton dissolution with mechanoreceptor damage in larval Dungeness crab related to severity of present-day ocean acidification vertical gradients,” January 2020. PDF attached.)
Sea Level Rise
A 2018 study revealed that sea-level rise will impact 300,000 homes and commercial properties in the U.S. over the next 30 years, costing nearly $136 billion. Rising seas and more powerful storms are already destroying community infrastructure, shrinking coastlines, and diminishing the public’s ability to enjoy favorite beaches. California is in the top three states that will experience the greatest economic impacts to critical infrastructure and the economy. (https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/attach/2018/06/underwater-analysis-full-report.pdf)
(5) The existing regulatory and management authorities for the area could be supplemented or complemented to meet the conservation and management goals for the area.
Integrated collaboration that sanctuaries provide for local, county, regional and national response
We ask that NOAA consider the importance of the regional gap between the major metropolitan areas of Los Angeles and San Francisco that the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary would bridge, providing valuable integration and collaboration for our local, county and regional authorities given the developments since our 2015 nomination.
A national marine sanctuary offers the only ecosystem-based management that is uniquely suited to oversee the collaborations needed for resource protection of this special place.
(See criteria #3 for adverse impacts.)
The Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary would bridge the gap between adjacent national marine sanctuaries, northern and southern counties, and hydrological regions.
All the watersheds in the Central Coast region drain to the Pacific Ocean and therefore impact proposed sanctuary waters and potentially impact the adjacent sanctuary waters as well.
The numerous projects proposed in the region involve several jurisdictions and various government agencies that overlap in responsibility and implementation.
There is a need for a national marine sanctuary providing an ecosystem-based management to assist and supplement the needed collaboration for a focused and effective resource protection structure. This comprehensive approach will promote long term conservation of Chumash cultural resources, sanctuary waters, wildlife, and habitats while allowing compatible human uses. A partial list of collaborative management partners includes: National Parks, Forest, and Recreation areas, California State Parks – Los Osos Oaks State Park Natural Reserve, Montana de Oro State Park, Morro Bay State Park and Natural History Museum, Morro Strand State Beach, Pismo State Beach, Estero Bluffs State Park, Harmony Headlands State Parks, Gaviota State Park, County and Municipal Governments, Central Coast Regional Water Quality Board, Central Coast Farm Bureaus and Rural Conservation Districts.
(6) There are commitments or possible commitments for partnerships opportunities such as cost sharing, office space or exhibit space, vessel time, or other collaborations to aid conservation or management programs for the area.
The Northern Chumash Tribal Council is one of the most progressive Tribal Governments in California. NCTC has been involved with the local Governments and communities for decades, providing educational opportunities to understand the Chumash Life Ways, and engaging in meaningful consultation with all entities, government and private, for the
preservation of the Chumash Heritage. This is a partial list of community, state and federal agency projects that NCTC has been involved in and or are involved with today:
Committee staffers; House Natural Resources Committee staffers (and subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife). The response was overwhelmingly supportive. Letters of support will be submitted to NOAA. (See criteria #7.)
Other proposed partnerships include:
(7) There is community-based support for the nomination expressed by a broad range of interests, such as: Individuals or locally-based groups (e.g., friends of group, chamber of commerce); local, tribal, state, or national agencies; elected officials; or topic-based stakeholder groups, at the local, regional or national level (e.g., a local chapter of an environmental organization, a regionally-based fishing group, a national-level recreation or tourism organization, academia or science-based group, or an industry association).
The Northern Chumash Tribal Council has built ongoing community and regional teams in support of this nomination. We continue to have support from our local groups and have grown support through persistent and extensive participation in projects involving the local, county, regional, state and federal entities. We are submitting continuing letters of support to NOAA.
On behalf of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council and our community partners, we respectfully request continuation of our nomination. Please contact us with any questions or information you might need.