The Obama administration is more than doubling the size of two federal marine sanctuaries off California’s North Central Coast, areas scientists have described as “blue Serengeti.”
After more than a decade of research and debate, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Thursday that it will expand the current size of the Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank National Marine sanctuaries. White House officials have said they plan to expand ocean protections before President Obama leaves office.
The Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary – which stretches to the north and west of San Francisco Bay — will increase and expands from 1,282 square miles to 3,295 square miles and move its northern boundary 62 miles up the coast, to Point Arena. The neighboring Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary will grow from 529 to 1,286 square miles, reaching farther into the offshore waters of Marin County to include Bodega Canyon.
The newly protected areas include one of North America’s most productive upwelling zones — a cycle in which deeper, colder waters rise and replace surface water as it’s pushed away by the wind. According to NOAA, the nutrients that come to the surface with this deep water sustain a range of sea life that includes 25 endangered or threatened species, 36 marine mammal species, over a quarter-million breeding seabirds and one of the planet’s most significant great white shark populations.
Marine biologist Barbara Block from Stanford University has dubbed the area “our blue Serengeti” because the nutrient-rich areas serve as “watering holes” that attract a range of marine creatures.
In a blog post , the White House Council on Environmental Quality’s Mike Boots wrote that, “the move helps ensure that we are protecting all that the region has to offer — from its biologically rich habitats primed for fishing and scientific research to the seascapes and shipwrecks that attract tourists and explorers.”
Boots steps down Friday, after serving as CEQ’s acting director for more than a year.
Michael Sutton, the National Audubon Society’s Vice-president for the Pacific said, “these newly expanded sanctuaries will work in tandem with California’s network of state marine reserves to make our coast and ocean the world’s most protected marine environment.” He said the expansion “will help protect some of California’s most spectacular coastline and valuable marine resources.”