The proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary deserves to thrive

“We should not sustain where we’re at now… we should not sustain the huge losses . . . Sustaining it wasn’t good enough. We need to reverse it, to make it thrivable, so that animals and species come back and flourish.” - Violet Sage Walker


Meghan Hurley

Thrivability: That was my take away from the webinar Environment America hosted discussing the importance of the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary. 

Northern Chumash Tribal Chairwoman Violet Sage Walker discussed this concept, introduced to her by her father, the late Tribal Chairman Fred Collins. Thrivability, she said, means we should not sustain our current state of the world. By doing so, we accept the huge losses of biodiversity to overfishing and climate change that have been accumulating for years. Instead, Walker said: “We need to do better . . . thrivability means we should be where we were 100 years ago or 150 years ago.” That requires protecting critical ocean places so we can restore what we’ve lost.

The Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary could be one of those places. It would protect an offshore area along 140 miles of California coastline. It’s a biodiversity hotspot, with a range of habitat types from coastal estuaries to deep sea canyons, and migratory paths frequented by marine mammals such as dolphins and whales. Creating this national designation would connect two existing sanctuaries, forming a network where ocean wildlife can roam. The area also holds Chumash sacred sites on and offshore — evidence of a 20,000 year-long Chumash presence here.

Sanctuary designation also permanently protects the area from offshore oil drilling, which is essential for this wild place to truly thrive. U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal of California said at the webinar that preventing offshore oil drilling is how we can be “certain we are protecting these areas for future generations and are leaving our planet better off than we found it.” The sanctuary includes potential offshore oil drilling sites that, if developed, could have devastating consequences for the wildlife that call it home and the history the area holds.

The urgency of protecting swaths of biodiversity in the ocean is heightened by the threat of climate change. Safeguarding the ocean is so essential because it stores 50 times more carbon dioxide than the atmosphere, and provides more than half of our oxygen

During the webinar, California Secretary of Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot reflected on what this sanctuary could mean for his state.  

“I want to speak from the heart about what this means to me and what I think it means to us,” he said. “It’s not an exaggeration to say that our life on the planet hangs in the balance as a result of climate change. Californians are living this reality daily, breathing it in through our lungs as California’s forests burn.” 

Dr. Dawn Murray contributed a very important message to the event: We must act quickly to protect our seas because each day we wait, we lose biodiversity. 

“This thrivability concept is just fascinating when you’re thinking even of biodiversity and the ability of these species to thrive,” she said. “It really demands that this area be protected.” Protection, she added, is the first step to restoring biodiversity and bolstering the ability of an ecosystem to be a bulwark against climate change.

California’s central coast needs this protection. It needs it for its lively kelp forests, where endangered southern sea otters playfully tangle themselves in underwater flora. It needs it for its coastal estuaries, which store carbon for thousands of years and take in carbon ten times as quickly as terrestrial forests. It needs it for the Chumash sacred sites, which hold the history of a culture that has been stewarding the ocean here for thousands of years. It needs it in order to thrive.

 Top photo: National Marine Sanctuaries, Flickr. Under the kelp forest canopy. 


Meghan Hurley

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