Proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary

Proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary Declared a Mission Blue Hope Spot

February 28, 2024

PRESS RELEASE

San Luis Obispo, CA – The proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary is now recognized as a Mission Blue Hope Spot. This collaboration between the Northern Chumash Tribal Council and Mission Blue highlights the importance of designating the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary by mid-2024 to permanently protect the sacred and irreplaceable ocean ecosystems.

The Hope Spot encompasses the entirety of the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary’s biggest possible boundaries, including over 7,500 square miles of ocean off of the Central Coast of California, home to an abundance of vital and vulnerable environmentally and culturally significant sites. The sanctuary would protect these waters from destructive practices, like oil drilling, seismic testing, seabed mining, habitat destruction, and loss of Chumash cultural sites. It will implement Tribal collaborative management and a community stakeholder advisory council to incorporate local voices in NOAA’s adaptive management. The late Chief Fred Collins of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council nominated this as the first Tribally nominated National Marine Sanctuary in the United States to permanently protect these waters and Chumash Cultural Heritage. Today, his daughter, Chair Violet Sage Walker of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council is finishing her father’s dream of the Chumash Sanctuary campaign and carrying on the Chumash legacy of stewardship.

International marine conservation non-profit Mission Blue has named the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary (Chumash Sanctuary) a Hope Spot in support of the pending permanent federal designation that will safeguard the area's marine habitats indefinitely. Violet Sage Walker, Chair of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, and Andrew Christie, retired Chapter Director of the Sierra Club Santa Lucia Chapter, are the Hope Spot Champions. They are being recognized for the 10 years of dedication to the Chumash Sanctuary campaign by them and their organizations. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is currently in the designation process for the Chumash Sanctuary, with the official decision targeted for mid-2024. Mission Blue’s Hope Spot declaration highlights the importance of NOAA swiftly designating the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary this year.

Walker comments on the proposal, “We are excited to join Mission Blue with this Hope Spot to emphasize the importance of protecting our ocean right now. The goal is to achieve the biggest possible Chumash Sanctuary and establish collaborative management between all Central Coast Tribes and NOAA. Status as a National Marine Sanctuary would serve as the primary mechanism to protect our marine life and cultural sites for present and future generations.”

Dr. Sylvia Earle, founder of Mission Blue, says, "Protecting these submerged ancient villages from future industrial encroachment will ensure the resting places of their ancestors remain undisturbed. The cultural significance of Chumash heritage makes this National Marine Sanctuary the only one of its kind. Bravo to the Northern Chumash Tribal Council for leading this very important nomination as a National Marine Sanctuary and as a key part of the international network of Hope Spots."

If approved, the proposed Sanctuary would protect over 7,500 square miles of ocean, extending from Cambria to Gaviota Creek and creating a contiguous corridor of ocean protection that would link the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary with the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. However, the potential alternative map that NOAA recently proposed excludes about 2,000 square miles of ocean, including the sacred site of Lisamu’ (Morro Rock) in Morro Bay, CA. This potential exclusion is taking into account future wind energy transmission cables that will likely run through the sanctuary to connect to the grid. However, the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, Congressionals, and over 100,000 commenters are asking that offshore wind be collaborative with ocean protections, like the Chumash Sanctuary. 

“We want to set a precedent here on the Central Coast that renewable energy and marine conservation can and must work together as we face the climate crisis. Morro Rock is one of our sacred sites and a biodiversity hub, and we’re hoping to work with the offshore wind industry so Morro Bay is not left out of the Sanctuary,” Walker explains.

President Joe Biden first spoke of the proposed Sanctuary in a speech on May 31, 2023, with these words: "With input from Tribal partners, my Administration also began the designation process for multiple new national marine sanctuaries, including the Hudson Canyon in the Atlantic Ocean and the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Southern California."NOAA held a public comment period that ended October 2023 where they received more than 110,000 comments from the public, with over 99% in support of the sanctuary designation. Considering the timing of the upcoming U.S. presidential election, Walker and Christie say it is urgent that NOAA designates the Chumash Sanctuary before this fall. The time is now.

Read more from Mission Blue's Chumash Sanctuary Hope Spot Announcement

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