Ocean Protection, Marine Protected Areas
December 23 2012

Expansion Proposed for Marine Sanctuaries off Northern California

by Pete Stauffer

The Obama Administration has announced plans to expand the Gulf of Farollones and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuaries to protect the northern California coast from offshore drilling.

Under the proposal, the sanctuaries would be enlarged by nearly 2,800 square miles, more than doubling their size. The new boundaries would extend 50 miles north up the coast to include Sonoma County and much of Mendocino County.

The sanctuary expansion would protect the region’s outstanding marine habitats, wildlife, fisheries, and recreational areas from the threat of oil and gas drilling. The designation would not affect fishing, boating, or other existing uses.

The announcement from the Obama Administration follows years of effort by Rep. Lynn Woolsey and other federal leaders to expand the sanctuary boundaries north. Woolsey, who retires from Congress in January, has championed legislation to provide similar protection. However, HR 192, which was supported by Surfrider chapters in the region, failed to pass, despite broad support from stakeholders and community leaders in northern California.

In the coming months, NOAA will lead an administrative process to gather public input on the proposed boundary expansion. Written comments may be submitted by March 1, 2013 via the Federal eRulemaking Portal with Docket Number NOAA-NOS-2012-0228.
In addition, three scoping meetings are planned for the public to learn more about the proposal and submit comments. Public meetings will be held on the following dates, locations, and times:

● Bodega Bay Grange Hall, Bodega Bay, Calif., Jan. 24, 6:00 p.m.
● Point Arena High School, Point Arena, Calif., Feb. 12, 6:00 p.m.
● Gualala Community Center, Gualala, Calif., Feb. 13, 6:00 p.m.

NOAA will then review these comments to determine if an expansion is beneficial, and if so, will prepare a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) to assess expansion alternatives. Once a draft EIS is completed, it will be opened for public comment again before final action is taken.

The Surfrider Foundation strongly supports the the proposal to expand the National Marine Sanctuaries off California and looks forward to participating in the public process to provide comments in the coming months.