|Source: National Marine Sanctuary Foundation|
On December 20, 2012 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Senator Boxer and Rep. Woolsey announced that NOAA would be moving forward to expand GFNMS and CBNMS, more than doubling the two sanctuaries in size.The Gulf of the Farallones, which was established in 1981, is 966 square nautical miles. Cordell Bank, which was established in 1989, is currently 397 square nautical miles. The combined change will result in a continuous protected area equivalent to the size of Delaware.
The importance of expanding these sanctuaries is overwhelming. Cordell Bank is home to a plethora of marine mammals like blue whales and humpback whales and birds because it is one of the top four places in the world for upwelling of deep, nutrient rich water to occur. This nutrient rich cold water grows plankton and other things that form the bottom of a hugely productive foodchain extending for hundreds of miles down the coast. Cordell Bank is a favorite spot for recreational fishermen because of the abundance of albacore and salmon. The Gulf of the Farallones has one of the largest seabird colonies in the contiguous US and contains one fifth of California’s harbor seal breeding population.
Almost all the testimony submitted during past Congressional hearings on the expansion proposal was in favor of the expansion because it would protect ocean resources important to fishing and regional tourism. These in turn will keep the local coastal economy vibrant.
Sanctuary status will protect this magnificent ecosystem from coastal pollution, oil and gas drilling, discharge of pollution from ships, keeps boaters away from sensitive seabird nesting areas, and visitors a safe distance from whales. CBNMS currently prohibits the extraction of natural gas and oil, the discharge of waste, and the extraction of anything that has cultural significance and any organism that dwells on the sea floor. GFNMS prohibits anchoring in seven zones, coming within fifty meters of the white shark within two nautical miles of the Farallon Islands, harmful discharge, abandonment of vessel, introducing or releasing non-native species, and taking or disturbing “sensitive” wildlife. Both of the sanctuaries are off the California coast; however, the Cordell Bank is more remote than the Gulf of the Farallones, which makes enforcement difficult. If both of these sanctuaries are to expand there will be a need for better enforcement tools.
As NOAA moves forward with the administrative expansion process there will be three more public meetings in California for community input: one on January 24,2013 at Bodega Bay; another February 12,2013 at Point Arena; and the third on February 13,2013 at Gualala. Electronic comments can also be made by March 1, 2013. Specific details about the meeting and how to send an electronic comment supporting the expansion can be found here.
The Marine Conservation Institute enthusiastically supports this expansion and is organizing public comments in favor of it. You can see our President, Dr. Lance Morgan, applauding President Obama and NOAA for taking up the sanctuary expansion project on the Marine Conservation Institute website.