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Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary: A Central Coast Marine Preserve to Preserve Cultural Heritage and Protect Ocean Ecosystems

For thousands of years the Chumash Tribe has held a deep and enduring connection to the sea. The waves of the central coast of California conceal ancient sacred sites and villages, artifacts that portray the history of these coastal people. Activists have been pushing to create a new National Marine Sanctuary, which would both preserve these significant cultural heritage sites and have profound ecological importance.

The Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary would bring the ocean off the central coast to a whole new status. Harmful drilling for oil and gas would be prevented, keeping environmental and cultural integrity intact. Commercial and recreational fishing would be supported and enhanced. It would bridge the gap between the Monterey Bay and Channel Island National Marine Sanctuaries, adding to the most extensive network of marine preserves in the United States and ensuring a more robust ocean for future generations to enjoy.


National Marine Sanctuaries

The offshore waters of the United States are home to only 13 National Marine Sanctuaries and one national monument that encompass 170,000 miles of protected waters.  From the clear waters of the Great Lakes, to the towering kelp forests of Monterey Bay, to the vibrant corals in the warm waters of the Florida Keys and American Samoa, these special places protect ecological, cultural, historical and educational resources.

National Marine Sanctuaries (NMS) are different than Marine Protected Areas (MPA). NMSs are much larger; MPAs are usually found within NMSs and protect a few square miles of precious ecosystems. NMSs can be thousands of square miles of ocean, protecting and preserving whale migration routes, seabird colonies, and important habitat for countless species. MPAs are often designated no-take or minimal take fishing zones, designed to offer more complete protection for the habitat contained within their boundaries. NMSs are strictly regulated fishing zones, but much less so than MPAs. Both networks safeguard our oceans resources and ensure the creation and preservation of healthier seas.

California has one of the most unique and ecologically significant coastal areas in the United States, a fact that has been recognized by scientists, fishermen, and regulators alike. We have 124 MPAs – the largest network in the nation – and 4 of the 13 National Marine Sanctuaries. We have worked hard to protect our underwater treasures while preserving beautiful stretches of shoreline that are economically vital for coastal communities thriving on tourism.

Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary

Coastal waters have raised 300 feet in the last 10,000 years, submerging many of the ancient sacred sites of the Chumash so that they now lie 13 miles offshore. By linking the cultural heritage aspect with vibrant kelp forests, coral communities, significant rocky intertidal habitat, whale feeding grounds and the most important wetland system on the central coast – we begin to see why this area deserves protection.

One of the main goals of the establishment of the NMS would be to prevent fracking, or drilling for oil and gas. With the demand for oil rising and the supply being tightly controlled, prices over the past few years have risen dramatically. You will have certainly noticed this at the gas pump. Fifteen years ago gas would run us $1.80 a gallon; those days are decidedly gone, with the pumps glaring prices at $3.50+ for a gallon nowadays.

Oil platforms have been a profitable for the U.S. to source oil locally. Unfortunately, the process of fracking or oil drilling destroys large areas of seafloor habitat, creates mass amounts of pollution that smothers nearby communities, and can release dangerous chemicals into the environment. There is also another concern. Diablo Canyon near San Luis Obispo hosts a nuclear power plant, a structure that needs to be kept far away from any sort of massive offshore drilling. The proposed NMS would also prevent seismic and acoustic testing, another measure that would keep Diablo Canyon untouched.

The tribal council strives to create “thriveability” for the proposed National Marine Sanctuary. Local human inhabitants would draw a deep understanding of the unique marine environment. They would work with commercial and recreational fishermen to enhance their livelihoods rather than heavily regulate them. It would be the first archaeology-minded national preserve in the United States. Cultural heritage and ecological diversity would be conserved for future generations to behold and enjoy. The sanctuary would also serve to advance research, create educational opportunities and allow nature to thrive for our ultimate benefit.

Protecting cultural heritage and the marine environment

Even if the proposed NMS meets initial criteria, they must still compete against marine sites across the country. It is not an easy process to establish a National Marine Sanctuary.  The fact that there are only 13 in the entire nation is a testament to the difficulty of founding such large areas of protected water. If you or someone you know would like to be an official supporter for the establishment of the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary, you may sign this petition. With the creation of this sanctuary, another piece of our local ocean will be permanently protected from the destructive force of offshore fracking.

Anyone who enjoys the bounty of our oceans has a responsibility to protect and conserve them. Whether we love seafood, partake in the joys of coastal recreational activities, respect our cultural heritage sites, or simply wonder at the beauty the ocean holds, it is up to us to ensure these things will be around for our children.

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