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Statement: NOAA moves to protect California coast’s marine life, cultural heritage

Biden administration begins process to designate the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary
For Immediate Release

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- In a move that will provide new protection from oil drilling along the central California coast, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced Tuesday that it will begin the process of designating the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary. If incorporated into the sanctuary, areas along the coastlines of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, from Cambria to Gaviota Creek, would gain new attention and safeguards. Sanctuary status offers permanent protections from major threats such as offshore oil and gas drilling and provides funding to better protect, research and manage key ecosystems in the area.

This critical stretch of ocean is a biodiversity hotspot. Whales, dolphins, sea otters and other species live in the area, which also includes sites that are sacred to the Chumash people. 

The Northern Chumash Tribe and a coalition of nonprofit organizations, scientists and local elected officials have been working to permanently protect this stretch of ocean for decades. It was first nominated for protected status in 2015. Environment California and its national partners supported the nomination in 2020 when they delivered 10,000 comments urging NOAA to move forward with this protection.

The benefits of safeguarding marine spaces are scientifically proven. A recent Environment California Research & Policy Center report on the topic highlights successful examples. Biodiversity and healthy ecosystems need to be protected against the threat of future oil drilling. Protection also ensures that the ocean and our coastal communities are more resilient in the face of climate change, allowing these places to exist for future generations. 

Environment California is an affiliate of Environment America.

Environment California State Director Laura Deehan issued the following statement: 

“The designation of the Chumash Heritage Sanctuary is a crucial step in preserving lively estuaries, coastal dunes, kelp forests and Chumash cultural sites. The sanctuary supports so much vibrant ocean life. A significant portion of the threatened southern sea otter population makes its home here. Whales and dolphins stop here along their migratory paths.  

“Protecting the Chumash area and the creatures within it is the right thing to do. Safeguarding the biodiversity in this area also helps species adapt to a warming ocean, and allows kelp and ocean plants to store carbon, mitigating climate change. We thank NOAA for moving forward with the designation and hope this will set the stage for continuing to protect California’s oceans.”

Northern Chumash Tribal Chairwoman Violet Sage Walker issued the following statement:

“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. 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.” 

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Environment California, an affliliate of Environment America, works to protect the places Californians love and promote the core environmental values we share, such as clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and clean energy to power our lives.