Proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary


Washington, DC – Today, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published a Notice of Intent advancing the public process to designate the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary (CHNMS). Violet Sage Walker, the Northern Chumash Tribal Council Chairwoman hails this announcement as a crucial first step towards President Biden’s initiative to conserve and restore at least 30 percent of our nation’s lands and waters by 2030. 

“Successfully designating the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary will protect ocean life, sacred Chumash sites, strengthen Indigenous communities and serve as a model of environmental justice,” Sage Walker stated. “Today’s announcement marks a major milestone after more than 40 years of tireless advocacy for ocean protection, and also represents the first tribally nominated sanctuary in the nation. Today my father would be proud. This is one of the things he wanted to see the most.”

Fred Collins, the late Tribal Chair and Nominator, had a lifelong vision for establishing the Chumash Heritage NMS to conserve precious life and cultural sacred sites in heritage waters. “Grandmother Ocean has been providing life to the Chumash Peoples for over ten thousand years, now is the time for all communities to work together and assist her in rebuilding her Vibrant Thrivability for all future generations,” Collins said before he passed into spirit on October 1, 2021, just 40 days before this announcement. 

Chumash have been the guardians of the Central Coast of California since time immemorial and look forward to working with NOAA and other partners to collaboratively steward this critical coastline for the benefit of current and future generations. We join with Indigenous Communities around the world working together to find solutions to better protect the Earth and all who depend upon it. We would also like to thank our grassroots supporters like the Sierra Club, Surfrider Foundation, Marine Sanctuary Alliance, Environmental Defense Center, Wishtoyo Foundation, and thousands of allies for their commitment and hard work to get us to this point.

Rep. Salud Carbajal (CA-24), Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA) wrote to the U.S. Commerce Secretary and the NOAA Administrator in August to urge advancement of the proposed Chumash Heritage NMS for designation, noting: “The waters off the Central Coast of California are some of the most biologically diverse and ecologically productive regions in the world. This spectacular marine environment includes feeding grounds for numerous species of whales and dolphins, sea otter populations, kelp forests, and is home to vital commercial and recreational fisheries. Designating this area as a marine sanctuary would ensure we continue to be good stewards of these natural resources while maintaining sustainable access for commercial and recreational fishing.”

“It’s impossible to fully calculate all the benefits the Central Coast will receive as a result of the ecosystem-based management that a national marine sanctuary brings, as marine sanctuaries offer environmental protections other regulations don’t,” noted Andrew Christie, Director of the Santa Lucia Sierra Club.

All of our many supporters should take this opportunity to celebrate this moment as we continue all our efforts towards ultimate designation. Visit to learn more about the proposed sanctuary and how you can support it.

Estero Map
Violet Sage Walker (center) with Sylvia and Leon Panetta
Violet Sage Walker (center) with Sylvia and Leon Panetta


OCT. 22, 2021 

Although I spent most of my career in Washington, D.C., my home and heart have always been along California’s beautiful Central Coast. Growing up along the shores of Monterey Bay inspired my lifelong commitment to promoting responsible stewardship of our oceans.

California’s ocean has been integral to its culture and people since long before statehood. Coastal and inland Native American tribes depended on and cared for the ocean for thousands of years. Our coast continues to give, providing food, jobs and recreation — all important to California’s economy.

Unfortunately, the health of the ocean itself has too often been taken for granted; we wrongly assume its bounty and capacity to absorb waste are limitless. And the recent oil spill off Huntington Beach is an alarm we cannot ignore — the health of our coast and the wildlife, people and economies that depend on it cannot continue to absorb these avoidable catastrophes.

Twenty years ago, I helped lead the Pew Oceans Commission, a nonpartisan effort that advanced science-based recommendations that congressional leadership from both sides of the aisle and Democratic and Republican administrations have since made meaningful progress to carry out. That progress, however, is threatened by the rapidly escalating effects of climate change, including rising ocean temperatures and sea levels, increased incidents of disease, and ocean acidification.

When I was in Congress, I worked with a bipartisan coalition to establish the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, permanently protecting the area from future offshore oil and gas development. For nearly three decades the Monterey Bay sanctuary has provided immense benefits to the communities along, and the ocean life within, its waters. Today, I believe the time is right to create a new sanctuary in California, this time in partnership with tribal communities.

The path to creating the Monterey Bay sanctuary was far from smooth. It took years of community protests and intense congressional intervention to prevent Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush from opening the California coast to oil development. After the Exxon Valdez oil tanker dumped nearly 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound in 1989, President Bush finally announced his support for creating the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

It was with a sense of deja vu that I watched the Trump administration issue an oil and gas leasing plan that proposed opening 90% of federal waters nationwide for 47 new lease sales, including six off California.Despite federal and state efforts to protect California’s treasured coastline, the threat of new oil drilling remains all too real. As the oil-covered beaches of Orange County have shown yet again, the consequences for ocean life and coastal communities are disastrous and expensive, and will be long lasting.

Along California’s central coastline, from Santa Barbara to Cambria, there is a prime opportunity to act right now. Led by former Northern Chumash Tribal Council Chair Fred Collins, community members in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties have fought their own multiyear campaign to create a sanctuary. Sadly, Collins died on Oct. 1 before his dream could be realized. But his dream does not die with him, and the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary deserves President Biden’s support and prompt action.

The Chumash Heritage sanctuary would protect an area, long targeted for offshore oil and gas development, that contains Chumash cultural and sacred sites as well as sensitive ocean habitats. Sanctuary designation would advance ecosystem-based planning to protect fisheries, seabirds, marine mammals, estuaries and beaches and promote appropriately sited offshore wind energy.

Consider the alternative: A significant oil spill in this area would threaten a major portion of California’s shoreline, putting at risk nearly half the state’s coastal waters and beaches.

Designation of the Chumash Heritage sanctuary would be historic as a major federally protected ocean area led by Indigenous people and an apt complement to Biden’s recently restored protections for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, all supporting his commitment to protect 30% of U.S. lands and oceans by 2030.

We owe it to the careful stewards of both the past and future generations to protect our coast. It is time to approve the Chumash Heritage sanctuary, transition to clean energy and do all we can to ensure the latest California oil spill is our last.

Leon E. Panetta founded the Panetta Institute at Cal State Monterey Bay. He served as U.S. secretary of Defense, director of the CIA, White House chief of staff, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and as a member of Congress from California’s Central Coast for 16 years.

Originally published in the LA Times

Sierra Club has reprinted the recent Real Clear Policy op-ed by Violet Sage Walker, traditional vice-chairwoman of the Northern Chumash Tribe, in their latest newsletter and it would be great if folks could lift it up! 

In the op-ed Violet describes the opportunity for the Biden Administration to designate the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary – what it would mean to her and her tribe as managers and protectors of these coastal waters for millennia, and how it would exemplify the principles laid out in the Biden Administration’s recently released Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful report, which recommends supporting locally led and locally designed conservation efforts; honoring tribal sovereignty; and providing support for tribal nation priorities. 

If you can, please help amplify using the social below:

When and where we dive with Nautilus has been a moving target this past week with equipment failures and bad weather conditions (wind and swell). We’ve be hiding in the lee of Channel Islands and just completed two dives over the past two days. A week sooner than anticipated – we all rallied and Lizzie Duncan pulled it off. We saw tons of sponges and corals and made numerous collections.

Tomorrow (Oct 16) we transit to Santa Lucia Bank and will have our first dive on deeper portions of the bank 1500m – 1250 m starting at 1600 to 0800 the next day, You can follow along via Then we transit to Davidson to give the MBNMS team at least one additional diveon the SW corner of Davidson. Because of the equipment failure and weather they lost out on 5 of their planned dives and thus far only completed one. Then back to Santa Lucia to dive on the Escarpment (3500m to 2000m) on Oct 18 from 1600 to perhaps 1200 the next day, pending another bad weather window coming in. We will go back to CINMS and if the weather models hold we will return to Santa Lucia on Oct 23 and 24 (or so could be later) for two additional dives – not sure where yet, I have 4 targets to choose from. It depends on what we find on the first two dives and weather.

Violet Sage Walker is participating in an OET outreach event on Oct 19 at 1PM PST to share about the Chumash connections to this place. Hope you can join via Youtube or FB!

Next on Nautilus: Channel Islands NMS & Santa Lucia Bank

Monday, October 19th at 10 am Hawai’i / 1 pm PST /  4 pm EST

The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary has been explored at shallow depths, but scientists on this expedition will be exploring deeper areas in need of immediate management decisions. The team will also explore an area west of Santa Lucia Bank, which is a proposed location in a nominated Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary. Join Violet Walker, Lizzie Duncan, Laura Francis, Lisa Wooninck, and Julie Bursek as they discuss how scientists manage Sanctuaries and why expeditions like this one are so important.

Tune in LIVE on our Facebook page or YouTube channel. Viewers on all platforms will be able to type in questions for the presenters live.

Carbajal, Feinstein Applaud NOAA Decision to Keep Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary on Nomination List

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Salud Carbajal and Senator Feinstein applauded National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on their recent decision to keep the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary on the nomination list for designation as a marine sanctuary.

“Marine sanctuaries play an essential role in protecting California’s sensitive marine and coastal areas from further oil and gas development. Designating this unique region on the Central Coast as a National Marine Sanctuary will help preserve our natural environment and cultural heritage while also helping to fight climate change.” said Rep. Carbajal. “Protecting our biologically diverse marine areas also directly benefit our state’s $1.9 trillion coastal economy, including our robust tourism and commercial fishing industries. I am thankful this five-year extension was granted, and I urge NOAA to move forward with designating this area as a sanctuary to protect it for future generations.”

“The Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary would protect sacred Chumash sites while helping combat climate change, said Senator Feinstein. “Permanently designating the sanctuary would protect one of the largest remaining kelp forests while preserving our cultural heritage. Kelp forests absorb twice as much carbon as forests on land, but California has already lost more than 90 percent of its kelp. I welcome this five-year extension but it’s a no-brainer that this should be made permanent as soon as possible.”

The deadline for the proposal to either move forward with designation as a national marine sanctuary or be removed from the nomination list was October 5th  . In July 2020, Congressman Salud Carbajal, Senator Dianne Feinstein, and Senator Kamala Harris urged the Department of Commerce to grant a five-year extension of the proposal to create the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary.

NOAA recognized the broad community support for the nomination, reviewed new evidence of the historical significance of the region, and agreed to a five-year extension on the proposal on October 1st.

“In the last five years, climate change has been biting down hard,” said Andrew Christie, director of the Sierra Club’s Santa Lucia Chapter. “The collapse of these coastal resources would be devastating. We commend NOAA for its decision and look forward to the day when this sanctuary will expand efforts to understand climate impacts in this area and incubate strategies for building resilience in our backyard and world-wide.”

“Since 2015, impacts of climate change on our local oceanographic and atmospheric features remain unknown and present significant and necessary research opportunities,” said Carol Georgi, Ocean Protection Program Coordinator for the San Luis Obispo Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, “including the complexity of the persistent upwelling through the Arguello Canyon, the lush environment of Rodriguez Seamount, the Santa Lucia Bank upthrust block, and Point Conception, the border between two oceanographic provinces and meteorological zones. The proposed sanctuary area is within this transition zone.”

Fred Collins, Chair of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, said the re-nomination decision represented a victory for “thrivability — all things connected, all things dreaming together for the abundant life of Grandmother Ocean — for fishermen and fisherwomen, tourists, and all that dwell on the shining, magical, mysterious, majestic coast line of the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary.”

Rep. Salud Carbajal represents California’s 24th congressional district, encompassing Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and part of Ventura County.


Mannal Haddad | 202-281-7612 (Rep. Carbajal)

Adam Russell | 202-549-5783 (Senator Feinstein)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Office of National Marine Sanctuaries has completed our five-year review of the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary nomination and determined that this nomination continues to meet the 11 sanctuary nomination process criteria. The nomination will remain on the inventory of areas NOAA may consider in the future for national marine sanctuary designation until October 5, 2025. We look forward to working with you and community members interested in long-term, comprehensive conservation of this area as we consider possible designations of national marine sanctuaries in the future.

Please contact Bill Douros or Dr. Lisa Wooninck if you have any questions.

Full Letter - 5 Year Review

Last Chance: Public Comments Closing June 15th! 

The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is requesting written comments to facilitate ONMS review of the nomination for Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary (CHNMS). NOAA will also assess the level of community-based support for the nomination from a broad range of interests. NOAA has provided the original nominating party, the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, an opportunity to share its views on these same questions. Subsequent to the information gathering and internal analysis, the ONMS Director will make a final determination on whether or not the CHNMS nomination will remain in the inventory prior to the five-year anniversary of accepting the nomination, October 5, 2020.  PUBLIC COMMMENT CLOSES AT 11:59PM, JUNE 15th.

Please follow this link to submit your comment.

The San Luis Obispo Central Democratic Party (SLOCDP) has renewed its support for the creation of the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary:

In a ringing endorsement calling for the creation of the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary — which will encompass the ocean and shores of San Luis Obispo and Northern Santa Barbara counties — the San Luis Obispo County Democratic Party (SLOCDP) on June 13, submitted its recommendation to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, noting that the initiative already enjoys “strong local support.” 

Creation of the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary will bolster environmental and cultural protection for the region, and NOAA will take into consideration public comments when determining next steps, a decision expected on or before October 5, 2020. NOAA welcomes public comments in support of the initiative, which may be submitted by individuals and organizations online until Monday, June 15, 2020, here.

“The Chumash people’s culture, the beauty and biological diversity of our coastal waters, and the greening of our counties’ economies argue persuasively for the federal government to create the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary,” SLOCDP wrote in its official letter, stating that, “Establishing the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary is clearly in everyone’s best interests …”.  SLOCDP also reminded NOAA that it had made a similar recommendation to the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries in 2005, emphasizing that, “It’s now time to make the Sanctuary a reality.”

Read the full text of the San Luis Obispo County Democratic Party’s letter to to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.

Dear Mr. Douros,

During these unprecedented times, the California Natural Resources Agency remains committed to protecting the state’s ocean and marine environment, economy, and historical and cultural artifacts. With this letter, I submit for the record my enthusiastic support to renew the nomination for the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary

With changing ocean conditions associated with the threats of climate change, National Marine Sanctuaries are critically important management tools to preserve California’s incredible marine biodiversity as well as safeguard the local economies that depend on a healthy ocean ecosystem. The proposed CHNMS would also importantly advance the state and federal governments’ increasing collaboration with Native American tribes in natural resource protection.

In the past year, it has been my distinct honor to appoint Tribal Representatives to the Marine Protected Areas (MPA) Statewide Leadership Team, of which the West Coast Regional Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) is also appointed. The proposed CHNMS would not only would protect submerged Chumash Tribal Sacred Sites (a consideration for National Significance Criteria 2), but would also provide partnership opportunities between ONMS, Tribal Representatives, and the rest of the MPA Statewide Leadership Team to continue to consider tribal interests in marine protected area management (aligned with Management Consideration 6).

Like my predecessor, former Secretary John Laird, I too value and prioritize designations of protected areas to ensure that California’s unique ocean ecosystems are shielded from oil and gas exploration and production. The proposed CHNMS would cover the area from Gaviota, where the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary begins, to Cambria, where the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary ends. This would not only provide important ecological connectivity to the existing National Marine Sanctuaries but would also protect ecosystems from oil and gas exploration that have already experienced significant oil spills in 1969 and 2015. Protecting this area from adverse impacts from future oil spills as well as future sea bed mining directly aligns with Management Consideration 3, and nearly all of the 11 sanctuary nomination process criteria. For this reason, in addition to the many other benefits to tourism, research, and natural and cultural resource protection, I encourage ONMS to renew the nomination for the CHNMS.


Wade Crowfoot
Secretary for Natural Resources

Full Letter

It’s time to speak out for the ocean – you can make a difference

Being near the ocean is unlike other places—it has a magical quality that allows people and families the opportunity to create unforgettable memories. We celebrate our spiritual blessing ceremonies, community gatherings, holidays, weddings, births and memorials to life here. We want it protected by a sanctuary so that our friends, families and communities can continue to connect with Grandmother Oceans in a clean, safe and healthy environment.

Please preserve our Chumash multi-cultural history and values integral to this region and the world’s Indigenous People. The time immemorial story of our Chumash Peoples protecting the interconnectivity of ocean life and health enriches the education, outreach and interpretive work of national marine sanctuaries. Indigenous stories are at risk of disappearing in these times. It is time to have an Indigenous focused sanctuary in our national system.

The ocean is an amazing part of the earth that has not been fully explored and provides us with a lot of the things we take for granted in our daily lives, such as oxygen and a sustainable food source. Climate change is damaging our fisheries on the central coast and this will impact our food supply, our livelihoods and our health.

The ocean is beautiful and mysterious. There is so much we’ve learned from it but much more to be learned. A sanctuary will become an important part of ocean research and protection for future generations.

The underwater world of marine sanctuaries rivals the beauty and diversity of our most cherished national parks, such as Yellowstone, the Everglades, and the Grand Canyon. People who have a stake in protecting these special places—like fishermen, surfers, scientists, tour guides, and historians—work together with elected officials and ocean conservationists to get these areas established as ocean sanctuaries.

Fish of all kinds thrive in these healthy areas, then move out into other parts of the ocean and replenish ocean areas where fish populations are weaker. This not only helps the fish, it helps the people and wildlife that depend on healthy fish for their survival. Studies show that these underwater sanctuaries are stronger and more resilient in the face of threats.

I love to feel the ocean breeze and to hear the waves crash onto the shore. The ocean is a special place that we should protect for future generations in the face of increasing environmental challenges such as acidification, pollution, and climate change.

This ocean sanctuary will not only protect fish, it will protect important moments in our maritime history from Chumash sacred sites to shipwrecks like the WWII Tanker S.S. Montebello that is listed as a national historic place worthy of preservation.

I visit the ocean to find calm; to break away from the normal daily routine and relax. My community depends on the ocean for our recreation, our spiritual well-being, our community connections, our economic health and…

Read the full talking points

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.

§922.10 General.

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.” []

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”

“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”

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)

(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.”

Offshore Oil

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.

Wind Energy

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.

Transition Zone

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.

Climate Change

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).”

Ocean Acidification

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.)

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. (

(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:

  1. NCTC is the lead organization promoting the Morro Bay University, a one of a kind Renewable Energy and Climate Change institution offering graduate programs. This project consists of working with the City and community of Morro Bay, Coastal Commission, State Lands Commission, CA Air and Water Boards, CA EPA, and the County of San Luis Obispo. on a proposed retrofit of a decommissioned fossil fuel power plant and construction of a learning institution and city within a city, at an approximate project cost of $300 million. NCTC is talking to Apple, Tesla, Microsoft, Siemens, GE, ABB; with Cal Poly, MIT, Caltech, Stanford, Davis, and many others. This project would be a great place to have our Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary headquarters.
  2. NCTC has a great working relationship with San Luis Obispo County. NCTC was the first California Tribal Government to change the Cultural Resources guidelines in the General Plan, under Senate Bill 18.
  3. NCTC was the first Tribal Government in the US to have the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples endorsed by Resolution, by the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors, on August 9th, 2011.
  4. NCTC sponsors Chumash educational events, bringing many different tribal communities together for special events.
  5. NCTC provides educational opportunities for community involvement, with the Chumash Kitchen, at the San Luis Obispo Botanical Gardens. These events bring community peoples together to learn about local indigenous recipes with indigenous plants and animals, featuring Chumash arts and crafts, music and the eating of Chumash foods for dinner.
  6. NCTC is involved with the Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s decommissioning of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, where coastal lands have become available through the Right of First Refusal for the land transitioning. NCTC and other Northern Chumash Tribes have the ability to get back some of our lands.
  7. NCTC’s tribal chair sits on the Cal Poly Presidents Advisory Council, assisting Cal Poly in their diversity issues and indigenous educational opportunities.
  8. NCTC, for many decades, has been the most instrumental indigenous proponent for environmental preservation and environmental clean-up. NCTC has worked with and is working currently with Chevron, Phillips 66, Great Plains Exploration, and is currently working on an 185,000 cubic yard clean-up with project manager AECOM, as environmental and cultural resource overseer, in San Luis Obispo County.
  9. NCTC sent a tribal delegation to the 2019 Capitol Hill Ocean Week. The delegation met with over 30 legislative staff and elected officials. We met with offices of Indigenous legislators Rep. Sherice Davids and Rep. Deb Haalund; Senators Feinstein and Harris; Senate Commerce

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:

  • University of California, Santa Barbara Bren School of Environmental Science and Management (“I believe that the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary would drive enormous interest for similar partnerships with local institutions such as California Polytechnic State Institution, San Luis Obispo and the University of California, Santa Barbara.” — Dean Steven Gaines, Bren School, UCSB)
  • Marine Science Institute and its programs
  • Ocean and Coastal Policy Center (with a focus on National Marine Sanctuary Program) and Marine Biology Technology Center,
  • California Polytechnic State Institution, San Luis Obispo, Marine Biology
  • Expansion in Marine Sciences program with a marine research and educational facility, Center for Coastal Marine Science
  • Santa Barbara City College, Native American Studies
  • Cuesta College, Anthropology
  • Antioch University, Marine Biology
  • Tribal Trust Foundation
  • Monterey Bay Aquarium and Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (“…The area off the Southern California coast proposed for sanctuary designation includes unique and significant natural and cultural resources that would be valuable additions to the National Marine Sanctuary System. . . To help fulfill our mission to inspire conservation of the ocean, one of the Aquarium’s priorities is to advance actions that conserve marine wildlife and protect the ocean and coastal ecosystems on which they depend.” — Julie Packard, Executive Director)
  • Existing adjacent outreach and education centers at sister sanctuaries – Coastal Discovery Center in San Simeon (MBNMS) and Santa Barbara (CINMS)

(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.

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