U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla, alongside Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, called on federal officials this week to advance the nomination of the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary.
On Tuesday, the three California lawmakers sent a letter to the U.S. commerce secretary and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, asking that the designation process move forward. According to a news release, sanctuary designation is the next step in the public policy process to ensure protection for marine resources off the Central Coast.
The Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary is located between Monterey Bay and the Channel Island marine sanctuaries and has been on the sanctuary nomination list since 2015.
The Democratic lawmakers wrote that achieving sanctuary designation is crucial for future conservation in the face of climate change and offshore drilling threatening marine resources.
“The waters off the Central Coast of California are some of the most biologically diverse and ecologically productive regions in the world,” the lawmakers wrote. “This spectacular marine environment includes feeding grounds for numerous species of whales and dolphins, sea otter populations, kelp forests, and is home to vital commercial and recreational fisheries. Designating this area as a marine sanctuary would ensure we continue to be good stewards of these natural resources, while maintaining sustainable access for commercial and recreational fishing.”
In the letter, lawmakers also acknowledged that the waters are “essential to the heritage of the Chumash,” who were some of the few indigenous, ocean-going bands along the Pacific Coast, according to a news release. The ecosystem is a part of the Chumash people’s “historical and cultural resources,” which includes 40 known historic shipwrecks.
“A sanctuary designation will ensure we preserve these distinctive natural treasures that are of special historic, cultural, and archaeological significance,” the lawmakers wrote.
They also acknowledged in the letter that a present threat of an oil spill off the Santa Barbara coast exists if the region does not achieve sanctuary designation. The letter recalled the catastrophic oil spills in 1969 and 2015 off the Santa Barbara coast, urging officials to designate the region to prevent another disaster of this magnitude.
“Right now, our oceans and our communities are facing unprecedented challenges from a changing marine environment,” the letter said. “From warming ocean waters, to increased threats of new offshore oil drilling, it is clear we need to act to protect these valuable resources that help grow our economy.”
“Designating this region as a national marine sanctuary would enshrine protections against oil drilling for a region that has first-hand experience of devastation from oil spills off the Santa Barbara coast in both 1969 and again in 2015.”