Area almost size of Connecticut
It’s been more than a decade since various lawmakers and activists started trying to expand the Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries, off the coast of California north of San Francisco. These are “globally significant, extraordinarily diverse, and productive marine ecosystems that encompass areas as varied as estuarine wetlands, rocky intertidal habitat, open ocean and shallow marine banks,” says NOAA. They are home to 25 endangered or threatened species and 36 marine mammal species, including blue, gray and humpback whales, harbor seals, elephant seals, Pacific white-sided dolphins, and one of the southernmost U.S. populations of Steller sea lions, among others inhabitants.
While the project had great support locally, it faced tough adversaries at the national level thanks to lobbying by the oil & gas industry, which would just love to drill nearby. But the defenders of nature prevailed, and the Obama administration finally gave the go-ahead to the expansion, which will also indirectly help protect the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary to the south.
“It’s ironic that against the backdrop of this war on nature that we’re seeing in the U.S. Congress right now, we are able to suddenly pull off this long-sought result of permanent protection for this spectacular piece of coast,” Richard Charter, a senior fellow with the nonprofit Ocean Foundation, told the SF Gate. “That is just a miracle.”
Matt McIntosh/NOAA/Public Domain
The expansion is particularly crucial to the area because it helps protect the base of the food chain on which the local ecosystems depend:
The area around the Farallon Islands was first protected in 1981 for its rich bird and sea life. The 2,220-square-mile expansion to the north and west covers ocean where an unusual upwelling of cold water, driven by winds, brings nutrients to shallow coastal areas. That in turn encourages intense plankton blooms, reefs and sponges that provide food for fish, marine mammals such as endangered whales, turtles and birds, including the largest seabird colony on the U.S. mainland. It is one of four such areas in the world.
“This protects the food source for the existing sanctuaries,” said Richard Charter, a senior fellow with the nonprofit Ocean Foundation. “This is the base of the food chain.” (source)
Here’s a map showing the new protected areas. As you can see, this is a big deal, with an area almost the size of Connecticut now being off-limits to commercial interests:
Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary will expand from 1,282 square miles to 3,295 square miles of ocean and coastal waters. Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, located 42 miles north of San Francisco, will expand from 529 square miles to 1,286 square miles.
© Courtesy of Bob Talbot