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Ready for that marine sanctuary?

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Richard Charter is a smart guy.

He's one of those people who can break down both scientific and legal language into plain English you can understand. From his perch as senior fellow at The Ocean Foundation, he uses those skills "to spread the word about how best to achieve constructive social change on behalf of our environment."

And he has achieved quite a lot of that. He's worked with indigenous people in Alaska to secure an oil drilling prohibition in Bristol Bay. He helped to establish the national moratorium on offshore oil drilling for the 27 years that it lasted, and he was a force behind the network of national marine sanctuaries that brought permanent protection from offshore oil for a large portion (not, alas, including our portion) of the California Coast.

On Feb. 2, 2017, months before the Trump administration revealed its big plans for our coastal waters, Charter wrote to the SLO County Board of Supervisors to inform them that they faced "the very real prospect of new federal oil and gas leasing off of the San Luis Obispo coastline, and it is vitally important for your board to operate predicated upon accurate information rather than based on those who may try to utilize erroneous rumor and inaccurate innuendo in an effort to trigger unfounded fears about things that have never happened in marine sanctuaries elsewhere."

He urged the supervisors to seize "this unique opportunity to eventually secure permanent oil and gas protections for your coast."

The opportunity was the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary. But the erroneous rumors and inaccurate innuendo were thick on the ground. The board majority went with the rumors, innuendos, and fears and voted against seizing the opportunity (and then launched on their stellar career of voting down affordable housing, rejecting locally generated clean energy, failing to lodge a formal objection to the Trump administration's five-year offshore oil and gas leasing plan that includes the entire California coast, etc.).

Many of the arguments from the Department of Things That Have Never Happened in Marine Sanctuaries, which swayed three of our supervisors (We've got enough regulations! Jackbooted federal thugs will come here and take over! We'll lose local control!), came from people who don't know what national marine sanctuaries are or how they work. That's why events like the one happening on March 17 at Cal Poly's Chumash Auditorium—Now More Than Ever: The Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary—are like a gentle spring rain of corrective information.

Joining Violet Cavanaugh from the Northern Chumash Tribal Council will be Dan Haifley from Santa Cruz, another father of the Monterey Bay sanctuary and longtime foe of offshore drilling. Coming up from Santa Barbara will be Holly Lohuis, a marine biologist and educator with Ocean Futures Society who has been diving the world's oceans with Jean-Michel Cousteau and his team since 1996. And coming in from Cambria will be P.J. Webb, chair of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary's advisory council. They will be discussing fact-based verifiable history and information, like this (take it away, National Marine Sanctuary Foundation):

"America's National Marine Sanctuary System consists of 13 national marine sanctuaries and two marine national monuments. These sites conserve some of the nation's most critical natural, historic, and cultural resources ... . They generate $8 billion annually in local economies and support numerous jobs and businesses in the fishing, tourism, recreation, and scientific research sectors. They are home to millions of species, preserve our nation's maritime heritage, and promote public access for exploration and world-class outdoor recreation and enjoyment for future generations. Sanctuary visitor centers, vessels, and facilities are key assets for communities; stimulate public-private partnerships on emerging technologies, cutting-edge science, and hands on education; and attract millions of visitors to the coasts each year."

The Sierra Club worked with the Chumash, Surfrider, ECOSLO, and coastal advocates on the multi-year process that produced a nomination document for the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary, which passed muster at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and is now in the inventory of nominated areas.

Then came Trump and his all-out war on the environment and public lands, terrestrial and marine.

But take heart: Trump's offshore oil project is not the only five-year plan in the federal government. Last September, NOAA released "Our Vision for America's Treasured Ocean Places: A Five-Year Strategy for the National Marine Sanctuary System." It contains key objectives to "work with tribal and indigenous cultural leaders to help protect their resources, properties, and practices in existing and potential sanctuaries," and "coordinate with NOAA leadership on the initiation of the designation process for additional sites on the sanctuary nomination inventory."

We hope to see you at Now More Than Ever: The Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary at Chumash Auditorium on Saturday, March 17, from 1 until about 3:30 p.m. It's a free event, but you must register in advance to attend. Go to tinyurl.com/calpolychumash by March 15 for your e-ticket. Δ

Andrew Christie is director of the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club. Send comments through the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com or get your thoughts published by emailing a letter to letters@newtimesslo.com.


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