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House Votes to Expand Marine Sanctuaries on California Coast

WASHINGTON, DC, March 31, 2008 (ENS) – Today, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to protect one of the nation’s most biologically important stretches of coastal waters. The measure would increase the size of two existing marine sanctuaries along the coast of Northern California to safeguard a unique upwelling marine ecosystem.

The House approved H.R. 1187, which would expand the boundaries of the Gulf of Farallones and Cordell Banks National Marine Sanctuaries northward to Point Arena.

These two marine sanctuaries already encompass almost 1,800 square miles of open ocean and coastal waters west of the Golden Gate Bridge.

After the House vote, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said, “H.R. 1187, introduced by Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, will expand the sanctuaries by an additional 1,000 square miles off of the Sonoma and Mendocino County coasts to protect additional spawning, nursing and feeding grounds for migrating whales, seals, sharks, fish and seabirds.

Two blue whales in the Cordell Banks
National Marine Sanctuary
(Photo courtesy NOAA)

Gray whales migrate through these waters twice each year, and blue whales, the largest animals on Earth, are sometimes seen in these sanctuaries.

“These critical marine areas need our protection, and I commend Congresswoman Woolsey for her efforts to preserve these areas and protect the diverse animal populations that reside in them,” said Pelosi. “The bipartisan legislation is supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, fishermen, business developments groups and environmental advocates.”

The bill, which must now pass the Senate, prohibits oil leasing, mineral exploration, and most aquaculture within the two national marine sanctuaries.

“This stretch of coastline is not just one of the most beautiful in the world, it is also an ecological workhorse that sustains much of the marine life along the Pacific Coast,” said Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope, who supports the legislation.

“By protecting this critical area as a National Marine Sanctuary, we ensure that it won’t be destroyed by oil drilling and other development,” he said.

This stretch of coastline supports a variety of marine life, including harbor seals and great white sharks. Gray whales migrate through its waters.

Pope says the area is biologically critical because it is home to a rare upwelling source that carries nutrients from the deep ocean to the surface, where fish and can more readily access them.

Although there are only four similar upwelling sources in the world, they are estimated to support one-half of the entire global fish catch.

Commercial and sport fishing are allowed in national marine sanctuaries, and the San Francisco-based Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations has supported the legislation. But until now, the waters have remained vulnerable to offshore drilling.

“By keeping offshore oil drilling and other development out of these waters, we’re not only protecting our marine life, we’re investing in the health of our fisheries,” Pope said.

“We don’t need to destroy our sensitive coastlines with oil drilling,” he said. “Instead, we should be investing in clean energy solutions that will help combat global warming, like wind and solar power.”

While the scientific basis for this expansion appears solid, critics have raised questions about additional costs for management, implications for final completion of the Joint Management Plan Review for these sanctuaries, and potential negative impacts to user groups in the area.

The bill directs the secretary of commerce to complete an interim supplemental management plan for each sanctuary that focuses on protective resource management in the areas added by this legislation and a revised comprehensive management plan for each of the sanctuaries.

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