Proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary Declared a Mission Blue Hope Spot

High Quality Map-Biggest Boundary-initial + Gaviota extension (Courtesy)

By the Northern Chumash Tribal Council

The proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary is now recognized as a Mission Blue Hope Spot. This collaboration between the Northern Chumash Tribal Council and Mission Blue highlights the importance of designating the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary by mid-2024 to permanently protect the sacred and irreplaceable ocean ecosystems.

The Hope Spot encompasses the entirety of the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine
Sanctuary’s biggest possible boundaries, including over 7,500 square miles of ocean off of the Central Coast of California, home to an abundance of vital and vulnerable environmentally and culturally significant sites.

The sanctuary would protect these waters from destructive practices, like oil drilling, seismic testing, seabed mining, habitat destruction, and loss of Chumash cultural sites. It would implement Tribal collaborative management and a community stakeholder advisory council to incorporate local voices in NOAA’s adaptive management.

The late Chief Fred Collins of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council nominated this as the first Tribally nominated National Marine Sanctuary in the United States to permanently protect these waters and Chumash Cultural Heritage. Today, his daughter, Chair Violet Sage Walker of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council is finishing her father’s dream of the Chumash Sanctuary campaign and carrying on the Chumash legacy of stewardship.

International marine conservation non-profit Mission Blue has named the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary (Chumash Sanctuary) a Hope Spot in support of the pending permanent federal designation that will safeguard the area’s marine habitats indefinitely. Violet Sage Walker, Chair of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, and Andrew Christie, retired Chapter Director of the Sierra Club Santa Lucia Chapter, are the Hope Spot Champions. They are being recognized for the 10 years of dedication to the Chumash Sanctuary campaign by them and their organizations. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is currently in the designation process for the Chumash Sanctuary, with the official decision targeted for mid-2024. Mission Blue’s Hope Spot declaration highlights the importance of NOAA swiftly designating the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary this year.

Walker comments on the proposal, “We are excited to join Mission Blue with this Hope Spot to emphasize the importance of protecting our ocean right now. The goal is to achieve the biggest possible Chumash Sanctuary and establish collaborative management between all Central Coast Tribes and NOAA. Status as a National Marine Sanctuary would serve as the primary mechanism to protect our marine life and cultural sites for present and future generations.”

Dr. Sylvia Earle, founder of Mission Blue, says, “Protecting these submerged ancient villages from future industrial encroachment will ensure the resting places of their ancestors remain undisturbed. The cultural significance of Chumash heritage makes this National Marine Sanctuary the only one of its kind. Bravo to the Northern Chumash Tribal Council for leading this very important nomination as a National Marine Sanctuary and as a key part of the international network of Hope Spots.”

Violet Sage Walker speaks at an event at the base of Morro Rock in Morro Bay, California. The MY Arctic Sunrise traveled to Morro Bay in September 2023 with members of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council and allies to support the federal designation of the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary. Upon designation, the proposed new protected area will be the first U.S. National Marine Sanctuary nominated by Indigenous people and would protect the ancestral waters of the Chumash and other tribes of coastal California. Greenpeace also supports co-management of the new sanctuary between the US government and California’s coastal tribes. (Courtesy)

If approved, the proposed Sanctuary would protect over 7,500 square miles of ocean, extending from Cambria to Gaviota Creek and creating a contiguous corridor of ocean protection that would link the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary with the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. However, the potential alternative map that NOAA recently proposed excludes about 2,000 square miles of ocean, including the sacred site of Lisamu’ (Morro Rock) in Morro Bay, CA. This potential exclusion is taking into account future wind energy transmission cables that will likely run through the sanctuary to connect to the grid. However, the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, Congressionals, and over 100,000 commenters are asking that offshore wind be collaborative with ocean protections, like the Chumash Sanctuary.

“We want to set a precedent here on the Central Coast that renewable energy and marine conservation can and must work together as we face the climate crisis. Morro Rock is one of our sacred sites and a biodiversity hub, and we’re hoping to work with the offshore wind industry so Morro Bay is not left out of the Sanctuary,” Walker explains.

President Joe Biden first spoke of the proposed Sanctuary in a speech on May 31, 2023, with these words: “With input from Tribal partners, my Administration also began the designation process for multiple new national marine sanctuaries, including the Hudson Canyon in the Atlantic Ocean and the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Southern California.”

NOAA held a public comment period that ended October 2023 where they received more than 110,000 comments from the public, with over 99% in support of the sanctuary designation. Considering the timing of the upcoming U.S. presidential election, Walker and Christie say it is urgent that NOAA designates the Chumash Sanctuary before this fall. The time is now.

Violet Sage Walker Headshot (Photo Credit: Gina Cinardo)

About Mission Blue
Mission Blue inspires action to explore and protect the ocean. Led by legendary oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle, Mission Blue is uniting a global coalition to inspire an upwelling of public awareness, access and support for a worldwide network of marine protected areas – Hope Spots. Under Dr. Earle’s leadership, the Mission Blue team implements communications campaigns that elevate Hope Spots to the world stage through documentaries, social media, traditional media and innovative tools like Esri ArcGIS. Currently, the Mission Blue alliance includes more than 250 respected ocean conservation groups and like-minded organizations, from large multinational companies to individual scientific teams doing important research. Additionally, Mission Blue supports the work of conservation NGOs that share the mission of building public support for ocean protection. With the concerted effort and passion of people and organizations around the world, Hope Spots can become a reality and form a global network of marine protected areas large enough to restore the ocean, the blue heart of the planet.

About Northern Chumash Tribal Council
The Northern Chumash Tribal Council (NCTC) is a California Native American Tribe and non-profit organization in San Luis Obispo County and northern Santa Barbara County. As a leader in local to global advocacy for Indigenous Peoples and environmental justice, they champion opportunities to protect our planet and our communities with Indigenous leadership at the helm. NCTC is dedicated to empowering Tribal members and the general community through a diverse array of community-driven initiatives centered around the interconnection between humans and Mother Earth. They are champions of environmental justice throughout their initiatives, including cultural heritage protection, Indigenous leadership advocacy, incorporating Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and western science, ecological stewardship, community development, ecosystem restoration, sustainable farming and ranching, and more. The lands and waters have been home to the Chumash Peoples since time immemorial. The Northern Chumash Tribal Council is committed to carrying on this ancestral legacy of stewardship and relational connections with Mother Earth and Grandmother Ocean.

NCTC is the nominator of the first Tribally nominated national marine sanctuary in the United States, the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary. This campaign is actively working towards getting contiguous ocean protection on the Central Coast of California with Indigenous leadership at the helm. NCTC collaborates with and mobilizes a large network of diverse partners and communities, including Tribes, Indigenous organizations, local community members, scientists, environmental organizations, youth leaders, faith communities, zoos and aquariums, federal, state, and local elected representatives, and more. The Chumash Sanctuary is in the final stretch towards designation, with a mid-2024 estimated designation timeline. The final public comment period concluded in October 2023 with over 100,000 comments and 99% supporting sanctuary designation. Securing sanctuary protection will be a big win in the advancement of environmental justice in marine protections.

About the Sierra Club, Santa Lucia Chapter
The Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club was established in 1968 and represents the Sierra Club’s members and supporters in San Luis Obispo County, California. The chapter is a primarily a volunteer-run organization, with a dedicated team that helps chapter members and the wider community stay informed, get outdoors, take action on conservation issues, and engage with elected officials. The Santa Lucia Chapter’s programs actively engage in an intersectional array of local environmental education and advocacy on the Central Coast. This includes marine protections, land management, development of renewable energy, phasing out fossil fuels, zero waste, climate change mitigation and environmental, social and racial justice. Over the decades, chapter leaders have been instrumental in the designation of three major wilderness areas and The Bishop Peak urban protected open space area; the prevention of destructive development in vulnerable communities and ecosystems; the implementation of city and county Community Choice Energy policies; and so much more. The Santa Lucia Chapter was a founding supporter of the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary campaign alongside Chief Fred Collins of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council. The chapter has advocated for national marine sanctuary protection for the Central Coast’s waters since 2006. Their team remains a pivotal part of the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary campaign coalition in the final stages of designation.

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