The Biden Administration is seeking public comment on a plan to designate a new national marine sanctuary off of California’s central coast, next to an area planned for offshore wind development.
The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has kicked off the process of designating the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary by opening a public comment period, open now until January 10, 2022. The area was nominated in 2015 by the Northern Chumash Tribal Council (NCTC) as a way to preserve and recognize tribal history, safeguard marine resources and ecosystems, and open new doors for research and economic growth.
The Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary would encompass 7,000 square miles adjacent to San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, north of the Channel Islands. Part of the northern boundary would share a border with the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which includes the waters off of Big Sur. The proposed area advances NCTC’s nomination with the exception of an area overlapping with the proposed Morro Bay 399 Area, spanning 399 square miles that have been identified for future offshore wind energy development.
President Biden’s Executive Order, Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, directs NOAA and other federal agencies to take a “holistic approach to curbing and building resilience to climate change and its impacts,” including conserving and restoring ocean and coastal habitats, supporting tribally and locally led stewardship, and advancing offshore wind and other clean energy projects. NOAA said that advancing both the sanctuary designation process and wind energy development in the area are both in the interest of these goals.
“Together, the Department of Commerce, through NOAA, and the Department of Interior, along with many partners, are increasing resilience by conserving and restoring the natural and cultural resources that benefit our country and our planet; working to reduce emissions by fostering clean energy like offshore wind; and supporting frontline communities by helping them build back smarter and adapt to the impacts of climate change. Proposals like the Chumash Heritage sanctuary and Morro Bay 399 Area are great examples of how we can advance these goals in conjunction with each other,” said Gina M. Raimondo, U.S. Secretary of Commerce.
“On California’s Central Coast, we have a chance to both harness the wind energy potential of our ocean and better protect the area’s extraordinary natural and cultural heritage,” said Gina McCarthy, National Climate Advisor. “To tackle the climate crisis we must – and we will – move ahead simultaneously with conservation and smartly-sited clean energy production.”
The waters proposed for the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary are both important for tribal history and in an internationally significant ecological transition zone, where cooler and nutrient-rich temperate waters from the north meet warmer waters of the subtropics, providing a haven for marine mammals, invertebrates, sea birds, and fish, according to NOAA. The area includes kelp forests, vast sandy beaches and coastal dunes, as well as wetlands. These ecosystems are home to “numerous commercially and recreationally fished species” and serve critical habitats for threatened and endangered wildlife such as blue whales, the southern sea otter, black abalone, snowy plovers and leatherback sea turtles. NOAA has also documented more than 200 shipwrecks in the area, two of which the agency worked to have listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“The recent oil spill in California is a costly and harmful reminder that we need to do more to protect our coastal communities from the threats that our ocean is facing,” said Brenda Mallory, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. “The Chumash Heritage sanctuary proposal and the Morro Bay wind energy area provide an opportunity for communities to help shape how we both protect the region’s extraordinary marine and cultural resources and harness the ocean’s clean energy potential.”
Specifically, NOAA is seeking public input on the sanctuary name, sanctuary boundary, compatible uses, threats a new sanctuary would address, how best to promote marine science and education initiatives and other topics as described in the Notice of Intent.
The public can comment on the proposed sanctuary designation until January 10, 2022 through the Federal eRulemaking Portal, www.regulations.gov (docket number NOAA-NOS-2021-0080). NOAA will also host virtual public meetings on December 8, December 13, and January 6, during which members of the public can offer oral comments.
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