From underwater kelp forests teeming with fish to the sun-kissed shores adorned with birds, the California coastline is home to billions of fish, mammals, and birds that rely on California’s vast coastal ecosystems to thrive. As scientists, researchers, and educators, we work to ensure that we understand how best to preserve these critical ecosystems and ensure the next generation comes to love and protect our coastal waters. That is why the undersigned marine and environmental scientists, professors, researchers, and academics support the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) most extensive and continuous sanctuary boundaries, as shown in the Initial Boundary Alternative combined with the Gaviota Coast Extension (Sub-Alternative 5b).
The proposed area for the Chumash Sanctuary is a stretch of California’s central coast, awash with some of the sea’s wildest life and a deep heritage. It is home to rich biodiversity and Chumash sacred sites on and offshore and is the first Tribally-nominated national marine sanctuary.
The Chumash area is a haven for life. The site hosts a range of habitat types, from coral reefs and kelp forests to coastal wetlands and dunes. It’s a critical feeding stop along the migratory paths of marine mammals. It is a vital habitat for 30 threatened or endangered species, including southern sea otters, leatherback sea turtles, and humpback whales.
By designating the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary, NOAA will offer permanent protections from significant threats such as offshore oil and gas drilling and provide funding to better co-manage the area's critical ecosystems with the Chumash people.
As scientists working to understand the interactions and connections of life off California’s coast, we know how critical this new Sanctuary will be to our efforts to monitor, manage, and protect the incredible diversity and richness of life found throughout our state’s coastal waters. To best allow us to achieve these important goals, we need the final designation to include the following:
An interconnected Sanctuary:
Designating the most expansive boundary area, as called for in the Initial Boundary Alternative with the Gaviota Coast Extension (Sub-Alternative 5b), as a sanctuary will bridge the unprotected gap between two existing sanctuaries along the California coast. By connecting the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary to the north and the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary to the south, an expansive Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary will help create a connected stretch of coastline where oil drilling is prohibited. NOAA’s Alternatives 2, 3, and 4 would not contiguously protect this critical stretch of the ocean. These options reduce the size and protection of the sanctuary by a minimum of some 2,000 square miles, eliminate connectivity with the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, and exclude critical cultural sites in Morro Bay, including Morro Rock/Lisamu’.
NOAA’s Environmental Impact Statement acknowledges that compared to the Initial Boundary Alternative, all other boundary alternatives would reduce the significant benefits for biological resources to “moderate” or “minor” and increase the vulnerability of those resources. For this reason, the Initial Boundary Alternative is the best option before you. The creation of the sanctuary does not prevent offshore wind from being developed in the proposed Morro Bay Wind Energy Area, since offshore wind transmission needs can be permitted by NOAA as they have in other sanctuaries.
Permanent protection from oil and gas drilling:
The species residing within the Chumash Sanctuary need permanent and durable protection from oil drilling and exploration. The 2021 oil spill off the coast of Orange County, California, is a stark reminder of the destructive impact an oil spill can have on ocean life. Protecting this special place is essential for thriving marine life and its habitat.
Resources and a plan for research:
NOAA’s Research and Management Action Plan for the sanctuary will “develop new research partnerships and infrastructure, characterize and monitor the sociological trends, human dynamics, and tribal landscapes associated with the sanctuary, characterize and monitor the biological and physical features and processes related to the refuge, interpret and apply scientific information and traditional knowledge to meet sanctuary needs, and support scientific needs and expertise.” These guidelines will encourage new research projects that will allow us to understand the effects of Sanctuary designation and monitor changes to the marine environment in ways that will help inform management, not only of the Sanctuary itself but also of other interconnected ecosystems. This research plan is another reason why we strongly support the designation of the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary.
Upon designation, we ask for the implementation of a Research Activity Panel (RAP) with a designated NOAA Research Coordinator, as seen in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Incorporating a RAP will help ensure that science happening in the sanctuary is communicated and incorporated into Chumash Sanctuary management.
The Research Activity Panel (RAP) is a working group of the Sanctuary Advisory Council. The key objectives of a RAP (as seen in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary):Advise Sanctuary staff on conservation science issues that will influence policy (e.g. address research questions in the MBNMS Management Plan).
Review of research issues and documents for SAC and Sanctuary staff.
Facilitate the exchange of regional research information and create opportunities for project coordination.
Convey regional research needs and opportunities to the SAC.
A designated NOAA Research Coordinator would help to coordinate the research activities within the sanctuary and connect researchers with each other and with NOAA resources, including access to NOAA vessels and more.
As ocean lovers, learners, researchers, and scientists, we want to give the ocean a chance to fight against intensifying human impacts. As signers, we support the protection of this special place through the designation of the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary.