NOAA seeks public comment on expanding marine sanctuaries

Stewarts Point (Danaka) in Sonoma County, located within the proposed boundaries of the expanded Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. This area is sacred to the Kashia Pomo Tribe. Fortunately, the Tribe, after conducting a blessing ceremony here on April 30, 2010, successfully pressured the Fish and Game Commission to reopen this area to tribal gathering and recreational fishing after it was closed.    Photo by Dan Backer

by Dan Bacher

In a move welcomed by environmentalists, fishermen and Tribal members, the federal government announced on December 20 it will begin a public process to review the expansion of the boundaries for the Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries off northern California.

NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries is soliciting public comments on this boundary review through March 1, 2013. The announcement took place the day after a new network of so-called “marine protected areas” created under the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative went into effect on the Northern California coast from the California-Oregon state line in Del Norte County to Point Arena in Mendocino County

The federal sanctuaries, established by Congress in the 1980s, together protect nearly 2,000 square miles of ocean near the coast of San Francisco. For the map of the proposed expansion, go to:

“The proposed expansion area is north of the existing sanctuaries and extends from Bodega Bay in Sonoma County to Alder Creek in Mendocino County,” according to a news release from NOAA. “This area encompasses Point Arena – North America’s most intense ‘upwelling’ site – which is home to diverse species and a productive ecosystem.”

“The waters off the northern California coast are incredibly nutrient-rich and drive the entire natural system and, for almost a decade, local communities have been petitioning their elected officials to expand sanctuary protection to these areas,” said Daniel J. Basta, director of the NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.

However, while supporting the sanctuary expansion, many grassroots environmentalists are concerned that the waters north of the Point Arena area are not included. This is where the San Andreas fault lies, the Mendocino Fracture Zone, that holds crude oil and gas in the cracks and fractures that form the endless sequence of powerful earthquakes that convulse the region.

According to an alert from the Ocean Protection Coalition of Mendocino County, “The latest seismic data contain enough information to determine the genesis and orientation of the offshore fault system and associated folds. Basin modeling indicates hydrocarbon generation has occurred in the Miocene source beds. The model estimates the Point Arena basin contains multibillion barrel potential trapped in large antiforms associated with the through-going San Andreas system. (http://0-

There has been pressure for years from other states and the oil industry to open oil drilling operations off the Mendocino County coast. Alleged “marine protected areas” that went into effect north of Port Arena on December 19 fail to protect the ocean from oil drilling, fracking, pollution, wind and wave energy projects and all other human impacts other than fishing and gathering.

The California Fish and Game Commission adopted the controversial regulations in June, amidst protests by Yurok Tribe representatives that the new closed zones, based on incomplete and terminally flawed “science” created under the MLPA Initiative, would violate traditional tribal harvesting rights. (

Ironically, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the President of the Western States Petroleum Association, served on the Marine Life Protection Act Blue Ribbon Task Force for the North Coast to create these so-called “undersea parks,” marine protected areas that do nothing to protect the ocean from ocean industrialization. Reheis-Boyd also chaired the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force that developed the “marine protected areas” for the South Coast.

The public is urged to comment on the expansion of the marine sanctuaries.

“NOAA will review these comments to determine if an expansion is beneficial, and if so, will prepare a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) to assess expansion alternatives. Any draft EIS will be subsequently prepared through a public process under the National Environmental Policy Act,” according to NOAA.

Once a draft EIS is completed, it will be opened for public comment again before final action is taken. This process will not revisit or amend the regulations for the current sanctuaries.

“In 2008, during a review of the two sanctuaries’ management plans, NOAA was urged to facilitate a public process in the next five years to ensure that sanctuary boundaries were inclusive of the surrounding area’s natural resources and ecological qualities,” NOAA said. “Senator Barbara Boxer and Representative Lynn Woolsey have also introduced legislation in every Congress since 2003 to expand the sanctuaries’ boundaries.”

Three scoping meetings are planned for the public to learn more about the proposal and submit comments. Public meetings will be held on the following dates, locations, and times:

Bodega Bay Grange Hall, Bodega Bay, Calif., Jan. 24, 6:00 p.m.

Point Arena High School, Point Arena, Calif., Feb. 12, 6:00 p.m.

Gualala Community Center, Gualala, Calif., Feb. 13, 6:00 p.m.

Comments on the proposed boundary expansion may also be submitted by March 1, 2013 via:

Federal eRulemaking Portal: Submit electronic comments via the Federal eRulemaking Portal with Docket Number NOAA-NOS-2012-0228Mail: Maria Brown, Sanctuary Superintendent, Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, 991 Marine Drive, The Presidio San Francisco, CA 94129

Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, designated in 1981, and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, designated in 1989, both contribute greatly to ocean and coastal management by engaging in public outreach and education to promote stewardship, conducting scientific and applied research initiatives, and developing and supporting programs that strengthen resource protection for the long-term health of the region.

Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary encompasses nearly 1,300 square miles of ocean and coastal waters beyond California’s Golden Gate Bridge. The sanctuary supports an abundance of species including the largest breeding seabird rookery in the contiguous United States, and other species such as whales and white sharks. Visit

Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, located 42 miles north of San Francisco, is a destination feeding area for local and migratory marine life. The sanctuary’s productive waters and unique undersea topography provide the foundation for a rich and diverse marine community. Visit


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