The Northern Chumash Tribal Council prefers the draft map to include Morro Bay as part of the sanctuary. Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA)

In 2013, the Northern Chumash Tribal Council began a campaign to create the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary. Ten years later, the proposal is entering its final public comment period, open through Oct. 25.

On Sept. 6, the Council held a webinar to review the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) newly released draft management plan and environmental impact statement for the proposed sanctuary. 

The sanctuary would protect 156 miles of coastline from Cambria to Gaviota and 7,000 square miles of ocean from offshore oil drilling, seismic testing, seabed mining and toxic waste dumping, the council said during the webinar.

“This plan would connect the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, creating the largest section of continuous marine sanctuaries in the U.S.,” sanctuary campaign manager Gianna Patchen said. 

During the webinar, the Council also stressed equity in tribal collaborative management, in which all local tribes would have equal opportunity to collaborate in this project regardless of federal recognition as a sovereign nation. 

The biggest difference between the initial proposal and NOAA’s draft management plan is where the boundaries of the sanctuary will be drawn.

While the initial proposed boundaries go all the way up to Cambria, NOAA’s preferred boundaries stop at Montaña de Oro, excluding Morro Bay. This leaves Morro Bay open as a “corridor for the industrial development associated with offshore wind energy production,” according to the NOAA.

The Northern Chumash Tribal Council is against the exclusion of Morro Bay and sees the city as a “critically important” hub for the sanctuary. 

NOAA also included an alternative in their draft plan expanding the boundary to Naples, including Morro Bay as part of the sanctuary. The Northern Chumash Tribal Council is in favor of this extension.
The public can share their thoughts on the draft management plan and environmental statement by signing a letter of support, making a public comment or attending one of NOAA’s public meetings in late September and early October.