The Obama Administration has announced plans to nearly triple the size of two major marine sanctuaries off the coast of Northern California. After more than a decade of public comment and research by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary will expand from 529 square miles to 1,286 square miles and the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary will expand from 1,282 square miles to 3,295 square miles. Together, the two sanctuaries will be nearly the size of Connecticut. When combined with the nearby Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, a a stretch of more than 150 miles of coastal waters will now be protected.
Described as the “blue Serengeti” by scientists for their nutrient-rich areas, the sanctuaries support a diverse array of marine life, including 25 endangered or threatened species, 36 marine mammals, and more than a quarter million breeding seabirds, the largest colony of seabirds in the U.S. While the broadening of these wildlife havens had near unanimous local support in the Bay Area, previous attempts in Congress to pass their expansion had failed due to oil and gas industry opposition. Extending north of San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge, the sanctuaries will now be permanently off-limits to drilling.
CREDIT: NOAA/Greg McFall
Richard Charter, a senior fellow with the nonprofit Ocean Foundation, called the development a miracle.
“It’s ironic that against the backdrop of this war on nature that we’re seeing in the U.S. Congress right now, we are able to suddenly pull off this long-sought result of permanent protection for this spectacular piece of coast,” he said.
In recent years two California Congresswomen, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and former Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), nearly passed legislation protecting the areas but were met with stiff national pushback from fossil fuel interests.
“I am grateful to the Obama Administration for this historic decision, which will more than double these magnificent national marine sanctuaries off the California coast and permanently protect one of the most productive coastal ocean regions on the planet,” said Boxer in a statement this week.
The region is not only critical marine habitat but it also helps support over $34 billion in economic activity in tourism, recreation, and fishing.
Rep. Jared Huffman, Woolsey’s successor, told the San Francisco Chronicle he’s glad the administration “stepped up” and used its authority as “prior administrations, both Republican and Democrat, have done.”
“The whole California coast has been in the crosshairs of oil and gas development for a long time,” he said.
More than 170,000 square miles at 14 different sites are now managed by the National Marine Sanctuary System. The first, the USS Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, was established 40 years ago by President Gerald Ford at the site of a famous Civil War Shipwreck.
Obama has also used his executive authority to designate national monuments to increase protected marine habitat. In September 2014, he expanded the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, first created by George W. Bush, to make it the largest in the world. Set off the southwest coast of Hawaii, the monument now covers nearly 500,000 square miles of pristine marine ecosystems.