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Published: August 24, 2023

Northern Chumash Tribal Council Celebrates Release of Proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary Draft Documents - 60 Day Public Comment Period Open Until October 25, 2023

San Luis Obispo, CA – Tomorrow begins the final opportunity for the public to weigh in on the California Central Coast’s proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary. For the next 60 days, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will accept public comments on the proposed sanctuary's draft management plan and Environmental Impact Statement, which will determine the final boundaries, permitted activities, and general regulations of the marine sanctuary.

“We are excited to see the designation of the Chumash Heritage Sanctuary moving forward,” said sanctuary Nominator and Northern Chumash Tribal Council Chairwoman Violet Sage Walker. “We know the importance of protecting this vital stretch of ocean, for our marine life, our fishing and our cultural heritage. Sanctuaries uplift local participation in ocean management, and this sanctuary will put Indigenous communities in partnership with NOAA. The collective knowledge of the Central Coast’s First Peoples, as well as other local stakeholders, scientists, and policymakers, will create a strong foundation to have a thriving coast for generations to come.”

NOAA’s release of the draft documents is a critical milestone in the decade-long local campaign to establish the first Tribal led-nomination of a National Marine Sanctuary. More than 30,000 people, including Central Coast residents, elected officials, Tribal and environmental justice leaders, regional businesses, and local conservation organizations, expressed support for the marine sanctuary during NOAA’s initial designation scoping process in January 2022. Thank you to Congressman Carbajal and all the congressional supporters for being champions of the Chumash Heritage Sanctuary efforts.

“The Central Coast has pursued this sanctuary designation for decades, and as our oceans and our communities are facing unprecedented challenges from a changing marine environment, this draft comes at a critical time for our region. I am glad that we finally have a draft that puts this sanctuary’s final approval within reach,” said Rep. Carbajal in today’s press release.

The original Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary nomination was proposed to cover more than 7,000 square miles of ocean, spanning 156 miles of coastline between Cambria in San Luis Obispo County and Gaviota Creek in Santa Barbara County. Maintaining these boundaries is vital for cultural and ecological resources. The northern region is home to the sacred Chumash site Lisamu’, known as Morro Rock, the endangered southern sea otter and many more key ecosystems. 

“This sanctuary has support from the federal and state governments, but most importantly from the communities that have lived on its shores for thousands of years. Combining Traditional Ecological Knowledge with new data from western science is a journey that enriches our view of the ocean and ourselves,” said Dr. Steve Palumbi from Stanford Hopkins Marine Station. Dr. Palumbi is currently collaborating with the Northern Chumash Tribal Council to combine Indigenous and western science in the proposed Chumash Heritage Sanctuary waters.

The Central Coast’s waters include globally significant undersea features, important wildlife habitat, and submerged Chumash sites dating back more than 9,000 years. The proposed marine sanctuary encompasses the western slope of the underwater Santa Lucia Bank at the base of the continental shelf, a 3,000-meter-deep submarine canyon, three major nutrient upwellings, spawning areas and rookeries, and feeding areas and migration lanes for 13 species of whales and dolphins.

It has been estimated that a national marine sanctuary off the Central Coast will generate at least $23 million in economic activity and 600 new jobs. It will also implement a Sanctuary Advisory Council so local stakeholders can directly advise sanctuary leadership on management and beyond.

Joel R. Johnson, president and CEO of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, said, "Designating the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary is a transformational moment for our coastal California waters and all stewards of our shared ocean. This Indigenous-led nomination advances ocean justice and equity by protecting ancestral waters and giving everyone the opportunity to learn from the Central Coast Tribes’ traditional knowledge and ways of stewarding cultural and biodiverse marine resources. People will benefit in many ways too, the proposed sanctuary is also a nursery for fish species we rely on commercially. We applaud NOAA and the Administration for advancing this sanctuary nomination and we encourage final designation of these magnificent ancestral waters."

Starting in 2013, the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, formerly led by Chairman Fred Collins, worked with local environmental activists to prepare a sanctuary nomination. The final nomination was submitted in 2015 and renewed in 2020. In November 2021, NOAA announced that the nomination would be considered for designation, just a month after Collins passed away. His daughter, Chairwoman Violet Sage Walker, who worked closely with her father on the nomination effort, now leads the Tribal Council and the sanctuary campaign.

“This is the defining moment in the history of this campaign, capping a lot of effort by a lot of people over many years,” said Andrew Christie, Director of the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club. “We are pleased that the marine sanctuary is a priority for the Biden Administration and is part of the federal commitment to protect and conserve at least 30% of our lands, freshwater and ocean by 2030.”

Comments from this final, defining public comment period will inform the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary’s management plan. Every sanctuary is uniquely created to meet the region’s needs, so local participation is vital in this last phase. However, all voices from local to global are welcome to comment; everyone is a stakeholder of our ocean. 

In the coming weeks, the campaign website, ChumashSanctuary.org, will have updates on the Northern Chumash Tribal Council’s position on the draft management plan and suggested talking points. To receive campaign updates and guidance, please sign up for email updates at ChumashSanctuary.org.

The draft documents will be officially published by NOAA tomorrow, August 25th, 2023. The 60-day comment period is scheduled to close on October 25, 2023. You may submit your comments to NOAA via the Federal Register, comment in a NOAA hearing, or mail them to:

Paul Michel

NOAA Sanctuaries West Coast Regional Office

99 Pacific Street, Building 100F, Monterey, CA 93940

Information on how to submit a comment: sanctuaries.noaa.gov/chumash-heritage

Northern Chumash Tribal Council: 
Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary: 
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