The marine sanctuary would protect over 7,500 square miles of ocean spanning over 156 miles of coastline for marine mammals, such as dolphins, whales, and the threatened southern sea otter — our relatives. | Credit: © David McNew / Greenpeace

This is the final week for you to make a public comment to NOAA for the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary. This is your last chance to make a statement and take action to forever be a part of protecting our Central Coast marine ecosystems. As the chairwoman of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council and professor of Environmental Sciences at Antioch University, we are encouraging your participation and promoting the importance of ocean protection — Grandmother Ocean gives us oxygen and regulates our climate.

For more than three generations, the Northern Chumash Tribal Council (NCTC) and grassroots community organizers have advocated tirelessly to establish the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary (CHNMS). Today we look back and think — why did we take on this daunting project? Because we firmly believe the National Marine Sanctuary system is still the best mechanism to protect the ocean.

Violet Sage Walker (left) and Dawn Murray

National Marine Sanctuaries improve water quality, health of fishing areas, and save spectacular marine and cultural diversity from threats. California’s Chumash peoples have been caretakers of the land and water since time immemorial, sharing invaluable Indigenous ecological knowledge. The Chumash Heritage Sanctuary designation helps advance the Biden administration’s America the Beautiful initiative to conserve 30 percent of our lands and 30 percent of our oceans by 2030, supporting tribal leadership and inclusive management.

The two of us joined forces to make conservation more equitable and community-driven, knowing that collaboration is imperative for long-term conservation success. The proposed CNMS is the first grassroots, tribally nominated sanctuary wrapped in the commitment to collaboratively manage with local tribes.

The Chumash Sanctuary designation is personal to both of us. We met on the Channel Islands Tomol crossing to ‘Limu’. We have run in the same circles for decades, both growing up at the beaches along the San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara coastline. The health of the ocean has always been part of our consciousness and our lives are entwined with the ocean.

This decades-long effort centering Indigenous perspectives, cultural values and connection provides a model for ocean and biodiversity conservation – respecting Indigenous ways of knowing and generational knowledge based on living in harmony with nature.

Our motto for the CNMS is “Let’s Collaborate!” The sanctuary waters have been both classroom and playground, and a healing space spiritually for both of us. National Marine Sanctuaries create a space of collaboration to protect our sacred waters. They encourage community connection with the ocean through education, science, and community involvement in ocean management.

The Chumash Sanctuary would provide a barrier from pressures of industrialization off our coastline — oil, gas, seabed, and mineral extraction. We must collaborate and protect over 7,500 square miles of ocean spanning over 156 miles of coastline to ensure safe passage for marine mammals, such as dolphins, whales, and the threatened southern sea otter — our relatives.

We must include the largest area possible for this sanctuary with its nutrient rich waters — of critical importance to plankton, algae, fish, whales, dolphins, sea otters, turtles, and sea birds. We must also include important cultural sites, especially Lisamu’ (Morro Rock). We ask NOAA to keep the northern central coast, from Los Osos to Cambria, in the sanctuary. We know that the ocean has already been damaged by climate change: California is seeing ocean acidification twice as fast as the global rate, with cascading impacts on marine life. But we also know that protected areas are a bulwark against the climate crisis and essential to slowing its impacts.

Local community voices are essential to help us meet this goal and make the Chumash Sanctuary a reality. Send your comments by October 25 to fully protect the Chumash Heritage waters, spanning between Cambria and the Gaviota coast.

This designation will be a milestone after years of work — an important step toward incorporating Indigenous leadership into environmental policies with meaningful and long-lasting collaboration for conservation and marine protection. Make your public comment by 8:59 p.m., Wednesday, October 25.

Violet Sage Walker chairs the Northern Chumash Tribal Council (NCTC) and is the Nominator of the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary. With 35 years of experience in cultural resource management and over a decade working on the marine sanctuary campaign, her expertise guides NCTC’s multifaceted work in California and beyond. She has traveled the world sharing her expertise on collaborative management, social justice and equity. Her leadership is backed by an understanding of what it means to take care of our place, be good stewards, and foster community. Chair Walker’s connection to the ocean remains at the heart of all she does – her compass is set to the sea.

Dawn Murray is a professor in the Environmental Studies Department at Antioch University, and director of the BS in Environmental Studies, Sustainability, and Sciences Program. Her research focuses on participatory conservation and co-designing methods that equitably integrate communities and elevate Indigenous voices in conservation solutions. Dawn received her PhD in Ocean Sciences from the University of California, Santa Cruz.


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