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A 7,500 square mile area off the central coast of California that includes ancestral Chumash sites and unique biodiversity was recognized this week as a Mission Blue Hope Spot.

The “Hope Spot” title, given by International marine conservation non-profit Mission Blue, is meant to identify “special places that are scientifically identified as critical to the health of the ocean.” They are often given to places that need protection, according to Mission Blue.

Which is why the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary was chosen.The designation comes as The North Chumash tribe awaits a decision from the federal government about its bid to designate that same area as a marine sanctuary. 

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The Chumash people have occupied the central coast of California for more than 20,000 years, according to the Northern Chumash tribal records. The proposed sanctuary site—adjacent to San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties and situated between two previously designated marine sanctuaries, Channel Islands and Monterey— would protect submerged villages of tribal ancestors.

Additionally, the area’s confluence of warm and cool waters make it a feeding ground for several threatened or engaged species, including blue whales, southern sea otters, black abalone, snowy plovers, and leatherback sea turtles. Notably, more than 40 historic shipwrecks have taken place within the proposed boundaries. 

All of these are listed as reasons why the late Northern Chumash tribal chairman, Fred Collins, fought for this designation for many years. He penned the original sanctuary request in 2015.

Now, his successor and daughter, Tribal Council Chairwoman Violet Sage Walker, has taken on the decades-long fight. She previously told Native News Online that a successful sanctuary designation would be a step towards environmental justice.

Mission Blue has named the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary a Hope Spot in support of the pending permanent federal designation that will safeguard the area’s marine habitats indefinitely from destructive activities, such as seabed mining and oil drilling, according to their website.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is currently in the designation process for the Chumash Heritage Sanctuary, with a decision slated for mid-2024. NOAA held a public comment period that ended October 2023, where they received more than 110,000 comments from the public, 99% in support of the sanctuary designation.

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About The Author
Jenna Kunze
Author: Jenna KunzeEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Senior Reporter
Jenna Kunze is a staff reporter covering Indian health, the environment and breaking news for Native News Online. She is also the lead reporter on stories related to Indian boarding schools and repatriation. Her bylines have appeared in The Arctic Sounder, High Country News, Indian Country Today, Tribal Business News, Smithsonian Magazine, Elle and Anchorage Daily News. Kunze is based in New York.