NOAA Plans Expansion of National Marine Sanctuaries

The northern boundary of the proposed expansion is a few miles north of Port Arena.

NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries has released a proposal to expand the boundaries of Gulf of the Farallones (GFNMS) and Cordell Bank (CBNMS) national marine sanctuaries, two of 14 sites managed by NOAA, located off north-central California.

The northern boundary of the proposed expansion is a few miles north of Port Arena.

The agency is accepting public and stakeholder comments on the proposal and related regulations through June 30.

The proposal is intended to protect the distinctive marine ecosystem north and west of the sanctuaries’ current boundaries. It would include waters and submerged lands off of Marin, Sonoma and Mendocino counties, including North America’s most intense upwelling site offshore of Point Arena. The nutrients brought to the surface during upwelling events at Point Arena are carried south into the sanctuaries by the prevailing California Current; these nutrients fuel an incredibly productive ocean area protected by GFNMS and CBNMS.

The sanctuaries are destination feeding areas for endangered blue whales and humpback whales, sharks, salmon, and seabirds like albatrosses and shearwaters that travel tens of thousands of miles. Food that results from the Point Arena upwelling center also supports the largest assemblage of breeding seabirds in the contiguous United States on the Farallon Islands.

The proposed expansion area is habitat for threatened Steller’s sea lions.

“The waters off the northern California coast are nutrient-rich and drive a thriving marine ecosystem,” said Daniel J. Basta, director of NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. “These two sanctuaries provide great recreational and educational opportunities for thousands of visitors each year. Public comments are an important part of the process as we look at this proposal to expand the boundaries.”

Established in the 1980s, the sanctuaries together protect more than 2,000 square miles of ocean near the coast of San Francisco. Under the proposal, Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary would be extended north and west from Bodega Bay in Sonoma County to a few miles north of Point Arena lighthouse in Mendocino County, including state and federal waters. Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary expansion would be extended west and slightly north to protect important subsea features such as Bodega Canyon.

The prized stretches of sandy beaches on the Sonoma Coast are like none other in the world.

During a review of both sanctuaries’ management plans, NOAA received comments from the public in 2001 expressing interest in expanding the boundaries north and west. In response, the revised management plans published in 2008 included a public process to consider possible expansion. Also, California Senator Barbara Boxer and former U.S. Rep. Lynn Woolsey, whose district included areas near the sanctuaries, both introduced legislation several times in Congress between 2004 and 2011 to expand the sanctuaries’ boundaries. In 2012, under the authority of the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, NOAA began considering the boundary expansion.

NOAA, April 15, 2014; Image:NOAA

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