Proposed Designation of Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary

NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries has initiated the designation process for the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary on the central coast of California. On behalf of a broad community consortium, 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.

The Designation Process

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.

NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries received over 1,200 comments during the 83-day public comment period. Several comments received showed confusion as to which step of the proposed designation process NOAA is currently in. NOAA is still in the early stages of the designation process, having only completed the public scoping period, which is the first step of the designation process. NOAA is currently reviewing all public comments and a team of staff are drafting a management plan and environmental impact statement based on all comments received. In late 2022, NOAA intends to release those draft documents which will give the public another opportunity to provide comment.

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Public Scoping
November 10, 2021 – January 31, 2022

  • Three virtual public meetings held December 8, 2021, December 13, 2021, January 6, 2022.
  • Electronic public comments submitted through the Federal eRulemaking Portal,, to docket number NOAA-NOS-2021-0080.
  • Written public comments mailed to NOAA Sanctuaries West Coast Regional Office.

Current Step

Review of Public Comments and Preparation of Draft Documents
February 2022 - Winter 2022/2023

ONMS staff review all public comments submitted during the scoping period and produce a draft management plan, draft environmental impact statement, proposed regulations and proposed boundaries.


Release Draft Designation Documents and Provide for Public Comment Period
Target: Spring 2023

Public review and comment on the draft designation documents.


Prepare Final Designation Documents
Throughout 2023

After reviewing public comments on the draft designation documents, ONMS staff make adjustments and produce the final designation documents.


Publish Final Designation Documents
Target: Early 2024


Sanctuary Designation
Target: Early 2024

Area of Proposed Designation

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.

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. 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. NOAA is reviewing suggestions received during the scoping process about larger and smaller sanctuary alternatives to the proposal below.

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
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 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 includes 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.

Numerous threats have been identified to resources within the proposed area. Sanctuary proponents believe 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.

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 Wind Energy Area for offshore wind development.

NOAA Administrator Dr. Rick Spinrad

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

Reports and Documents