For more than 10,000 years, the Chumash people have lived along the coast of what is now central California.
“The Chumash had been the stewards and the guardians of this area since time immemorial,” says P.J. Webb, a tribal adviser and board member of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, a nonprofit.
She says the region’s coastal waters provide critical habitat for whales, otters, shellfish, and other species. And they’re home to ancestral Chumash villages that were submerged by geological changes over millenniums.
So to protect this important area, her group has long advocated for about 7,000 square miles to be designated a national marine sanctuary.
It would help protect the area from oil and gas exploration and drilling, as well as other development that could disturb the seabed floor.
And it would provide a living laboratory for researchers to study the impact of climate change and ocean acidification on a wide range of species.
The Northern Chumash Tribal Council nominated the sanctuary in 2015. Now the federal government is in the final stages of the designation process.
“The Chumash and the citizens and communities of the Central Coast have been fighting for this for a long time,” Webb says. “And now that we’re almost there, it’s joyous.”
Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy / ChavoBart Digital Media