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In what would be the first Tribal-nominated national marine sanctuary in the United States, the Northern Chumash tribe of the Central Coast have been working to designate 156 miles of coastline since 2013, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website. Now, the tribe is one step closer to establishing the sanctuary.
The sanctuary project is now going through the public scoping process, where NOAA is asking what the people want to see from the sanctuary by holding virtual meetings to inform the public and take public comment.
Northern Chumash Tribal Council Chairwoman Violet Sage Walker said in a press release that creating the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary is a “crucial first step” towards President Joe Biden’s initiative to conserve and restore at least 30% of the country’s land and water by 2030.
“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,” Sage Walker said in the press release.
Sage Walker said this next step for designating the sanctuary marks a “major milestone” after more than 40 years of the tribal council’s advocacy for ocean protection.
Sage Walker’s father, the late Tribal Chair Fred Collins, fought for the sanctuary before he passed just 40 days before the project became approved for public input, according to the press release.
“Today my father would be proud,” Sage Walker said. “This is one of the things he wanted to see the most.”
This marine sanctuary is set to cover about 7,000-square miles from the town of Cambria, through San Luis Obispo County and down to the County of Santa Barbara.
“There will be better organization for how to take care of this land, which is really important to natives,” electrical engineering senior and former president of Cal Poly’s American Indian Students Association Wyatt Kohler said. “This land is our relative.”
The Chumash Sanctuary will aim to preserve coastal ecosystems and protect sacred Chumash sites.
“They’re doing justice to the Chumash people, to their ancestors,” Kohler said.
The sanctuary will also boost the local economy by attracting national tourism, stop offshore drilling expansion, prohibit acoustic testing and provide funding for extensive marine research, according to journalism senior Grace Curtis, who interns for the Northern Chumash Tribal Council’s Public Interest attorney, Margaret PJ Webb. Curtis was referred to Mustang News by members of the Northern Chumash tribal council.
According to Curtis, counties like Monterey Bay that have previously undergone this process to achieve marine sanctuaries can now better protect their environment and marine life.
“Marine sanctuaries bring in funding for research like grant magnets,” Curtis said. “It’s important to care about marine life.”
The tribe’s nomination for formal sanctuary designation was accepted in 2015 by the NOAA.
NOAA will now spend the next year drafting plans, taking into account any environmental ramifications of the project throughout the process. According to NOAA West Coast Policy Coordinator Paul Michel, this plan will be released around late fall to early winter this year.
Throughout the course of the designation process, community outreach as a grassroots movement is needed, as said by Curtis.
“There’s nothing really like getting a marine sanctuary designated,” Curtis said. “It’s a very unique process.”
For the Chumash people, this has been a process consisting of more than 40 years of advocating for the national marine sanctuary, according to the Chumash Sanctuary website. According to this website, in order to protect all land, freshwaters and oceans, looking at Indigenous perspectives is crucial.
“We want to acknowledge all tribal entities on the coast and look forward to working alongside them,” Michel said. “[The sanctuary’s] intention is to highlight the Chumash heritage.”
According to Michel, the sanctuary has garnered lots of positive feedback from the public — by this time next year, this proposed marine sanctuary will likely be operational.