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03/02/2012

Coming Together to Protect the Coast

Big Sur, Heil
What would entice small business owners, conservationists, and local elected officials to spend a Saturday afternoon together in a windowless room along California’s Central Coast? Their shared belief that protecting California’s coastal resources is an investment in our state’s future and long-term economic health.

These new allies were gathered at a workshop to build local support for expanding a national marine sanctuary to fill a protection gap along the Central Coast. I shared the stage with two central coast business owners, the former mayor of Santa Cruz, and the chair of the Monterrey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council. Despite approaching the issue from different perspectives, we all agreed that permanently protecting California’s Central Coast from mismanagement  is vital.

CA marine sanctuary meetingAvila Beach, the host town for the event, exemplifies why we are working to protect this stretch of coastline. California’s iconic landscapes and beloved wildlife attract over 12 million visitors every year who come to surf, fish, and play on our shores. Perhaps Congresswoman Lois Capps, kicking off the day’s panel discussion, expressed it best when she said, “The health of this area depends on the health of our oceans.”

That ocean is not only the economic engine of the region—and some might argue the state—but also intricately linked with the identity of the people who live along the coast. Randy Widera, a management consultant in Santa Cruz, described California’s central coast as a “brand” and the wildlife and coastal areas as its products. The analogy is fitting not only for Santa Cruz, but also its neighbors to the south, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties, whose tourism-driven economies rely on a healthy coast.

And it’s not just people and businesses that rely on a healthy coast, but wildlife as well. The coast of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties boasts some of the most diverse wildlife on the planet. It is home to endangered species ranging from the southern sea otter to the western snowy plover.

With the threats of oil drilling and increased development along California’s coast, Sierra Club is leading the charge to expand the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which currently stretches from Marin County to Cambria. We’re pushing to stretch the sanctuary as far south as Point Conception in northern Santa Barbara County. Sanctuary status requires sustainable resource management practices that ensure the long-term survival of our coastal wildlife.

“One of the most important parts of the National Marine Sanctuary is what you don’t see – you don’t see offshore oil drilling, or onshore facilities to support offshore drilling,” said Dan Haifley, the executive director of O’Neill Sea Odyssey. “What we’re protecting is beneath the surface.”

The chair of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council, Dr. Chris Harrold, focused in on the heart of the matter. Showing a picture of his 85-year-old father holding his one-year-old great-granddaughter, both central California natives, Dr. Harrold questioned what our coast would look like at the end of the century, when Isabella is eighty-five. Dr. Harrold urged the audience to not let shortsightedness lead us to pursue oil drilling off our coast and touted the short- and long-term benefits of National Marine Sanctuary designation.

Sierra Club is working locally with our allies to build national support for marine sanctuary expansion. The National Marine Sanctuaries Act gives the Secretary of Commerce the authority to designate National Marine Sanctuaries. For the health of our oceans, coastal wildlife, and the local tourism economy, Sierra Club is asking local government officials, including Congresswoman Lois Capps and Senators Feinstein and Boxer, to call on the Commerce Department to expand the MBNMS to include the waters off San Luis Obispo County. 

 -- By Amanda Wallner, California Coast Resilient Habitats Campaign  

Photo by Bob Heil

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