Proposed Designation of Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary

NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries invites the public to participate in the designation process for the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary on the central coast of California. The Northern Chumash Tribal Council (NCTC) submitted the sanctuary nomination in July 2015, and NOAA is considering sanctuary designation to protect the region’s important marine ecosystem, maritime heritage resources, and cultural values of Indigenous communities.

map of the California coast depicting the boundary for the proposed chumash heritage national marine sanctuary along with boundaries of Monterey bay and channel islands national marine sanctuaries
Area proposed for Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary. Credit: NOAA

The area proposed for sanctuary designation, adjacent to San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, would recognize Chumash tribal history in the area and protect an internationally-significant ecological transition zone, where temperate waters from the north meet the subtropics, providing a haven for marine mammals, invertebrates, sea birds, and fishes.

NOAA Administrator Dr. Rick Spinrad

Numerous threats have been identified to resources within the proposed area. The NCTC believes a national marine sanctuary offers solutions in guiding coordinated and comprehensive ecosystem-based management, including organizing and stimulating marine research, education, stewardship, tourism, and recreation, as well as providing protection for important native cultural sites.

crabs covering corals and sponges
Deepwater bubblegum coral, a host for California king crab, observed during 2020 E/V Nautilus exploration of the Santa Lucia Bank. Corals and sponges that make up the area's seafloor habitats provide food and shelter for recreationally and commercially important fish species. Credit: OET/NOAA; Additional photos available on the media resources page.
steering wheel on the bridge of the USCG Cutter McCulloch
A view of the steering wheel on the bridge of the USCG Cutter McCulloch. The McCulloch sank when it collided with the passenger steamship SS Governor on June 13, 1917. Credit: NOAA/USCG/VideoRay

The proposed area stretches along 156 miles of coastline, encompassing approximately 7,000-square miles from Santa Rosa Creek near the town of Cambria, San Luis Obispo County, south to Gaviota Creek in Santa Barbara County, and extends offshore to include Santa Lucia Bank, Rodriguez Seamount, and Arguello Canyon.

The area is known for its extensive kelp forests, vast sandy beaches and coastal dunes, and wetlands serving as nursery grounds for numerous commercial fish species and important habitat for many threatened and endangered species such as blue whales, southern sea otter, black abalone, snowy plovers, and leatherback sea turtles. There are many nationally significant shipwrecks throughout this maritime landscape.

To address the climate change crisis, the Biden-Harris Administration is committed to advancing in tandem the complementary goals of marine conservation and clean renewable energy per Executive Order 14008. NOAA’s proposed sanctuary designation is based on the nomination submitted by the Northern Chumash Tribal Council in July 2015, excluding any geographical overlap with the proposed Morro Bay 399 Area for offshore wind development.

Virtual Public Meetings

view from the rock shore to morro rock, a volcanic plug
Morro Rock, a volcanic plug, is located at the entrance to Morro Bay, tribal place names Salinan Le'samo and Chumash Lisamu'. Credit: Robert Schwemmer/NOAA; Additional photos available on the media resources page.

Virtual meetings to gather public comments on the notice of intent are scheduled for the following dates and times. Individuals who plan on attending the public meetings to give oral comments and any other interested parties must register in advance of the meeting using the registration links below.

Virtual public meeting 1:

Date and Time: Dec 8, 2021 6:00 PM - 9:00 PM PST


Virtual public meeting 2:

Date and Time: Dec 13, 2021 1:00 PM - 4:00 PM PST


Virtual public meeting 3:

Date and Time: Jan 6, 2022 4:00 PM - 7:00 PM PST


Virtual public meetings will be held in December and January to gather input on the scope and significance of issues to be addressed in the environmental impact statement that are related to designating this area as a national marine sanctuary. NOAA requests input on specific topics (see Federal Register Notice) including the sanctuary name, boundary alternatives, and analyses relevant to the proposed action. The results of the scoping process will assist NOAA with the designation process, including preparation and release of draft designation documents, and in formulating alternatives for the draft environmental impact statement.


The public can comment on the proposed action through January 31, 2022. Comments may be submitted by any one of the following methods: 


Submit all electronic public comments through the Federal eRulemaking Portal, The docket number is NOAA-NOS-2021-0080. Click the "Comment Now!" icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments.


Paul E. Michel, Regional Policy Coordinator
NOAA Sanctuaries West Coast Regional Office
99 Pacific Street, Building 100F
Monterey, CA 93940

For more information, contact:
Paul Michel
NOAA Sanctuaries West Coast Regional Office
(831) 241-4217

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NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary System

NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries serves as the trustee for a network of underwater parks  encompassing more than 620,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters from Washington state to the Florida Keys, and from Lake Huron to American Samoa. The network includes a system of 15 national marine sanctuaries and Papahānaumokuākea and Rose Atoll marine national monuments. Through the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, NOAA can identify, designate, and protect areas of the marine and Great Lakes environment that have special national significance.

national marine sanctuary system map