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Chumash marine sanctuary back on track 

After hitting a snag earlier this year, a proposed marine sanctuary located in the waters along the Central Coast is back on track.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, announced Oct. 9 that it would consider approving the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary. The nomination of the sanctuary, which would stretch from Santa Rosa Creek in Cambria to Gaviota Creek in Santa Barbara, was submitted by the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, who worked with a number of Central Coast Environmental groups on the project.

According to a press release from the tribal council issued shortly after NOAA’s announcement, the sanctuary would be one of the first to “focus on indigenous culture and history as a primary core value along with the protection of the ocean habitat.”

Plans for the sanctuary hit a stumbling block in March, when Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS), a division of NOAA, deemed the nomination insufficient to be considered for NOAA’s approval process. At the time, Northern Chumash Tribal Council Chairman Fred Collins vowed to revise the nomination package and resubmit it. The desire to get the area nominated, considered, and eventually approved as a national marine sanctuary was made more urgent by the fact that the last time NOAA was open to accepting such nominations was in the early 1990s.

While the project’s supporters lauded the Oct. 9 announcement as a victory, NOAA’s decision doesn’t mean the sanctuary is a sure thing. It simply means that the administration will consider the area for the designation of a national marine sanctuary.

“NOAA may consider an area added to the inventory for future designation as a national marine sanctuary,” Lisa Wooninck, a policy coordinator for NOAA’s West Coast regional office, said in an email repose to questions from New Times. “Sanctuary designation is a separate public process that by law is highly public and participatory, and often takes several years to complete.”

In the tribal council’s press release, Collins was optimistic about the process.

“A Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary will preserve and recognize the importance of our tribal history, safeguard our shared coastal resources, and open new doors for research and economic growth,” he said. “We hope to move forward with the designation as soon as possible.” 

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