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GUEST OPINION: Speaking out in defense of our coast

  • Waves bash along the rocky coastline north of Bodega Bay. President Obama is expanding the marine sanctuary from Bodega Bay north to Point Arena. (Christopher Chung / The Press Democrat)

I was gladdened at the overwhelmingly positive response to the proposed expansion of the National Marine Sanctuary to the Sonoma and Mendocino coasts at the first of three scoping hearings last month in Bodega Bay.

On Tuesday, the hearings move to Point Arena, followed by Gualala on Wednesday, where Marine Sanctuary officials will hear from local residents.

Sonoma and Mendocino counties are special places with long histories of coastal protection. Stopping a nuclear power plant at Bodega Bay in the early 1960s signaled the beginning of a new environmental movement. The Reagan administration's push for offshore oil off of our coast resulted in a seaweed rebellion that has become an enduring plank in California environmental policy. Now we are at the brink of a long-sought dream of providing permanent protection against oil extraction and ocean dumping from Bodega Bay to just beyond Point Arena.

National marine sanctuaries are only designated in areas that have special biological significance. The Sonoma and Mendocino coast fits that category perfectly. They are within one of four powerful coastal upwelling zones on the planet, together comprising only 1 percent of the ocean but historically producing 20 percent of the world's fish. When you have an area that supports 33 species of marine mammals including whales, elephant seals, sea lions and seals — all at the top of the food chain, you know it's biologically abundant.

I also have long recognized the importance of a clean coast to the economies of the North Coast. No amount of bright press releases can paper over formerly pristine beaches blackened with oil or dead fish washed ashore in brown surf. Tourist destinations such as Monterey, Santa Cruz and Point Reyes all benefit from their clean beaches and their connection to national marine sanctuaries. In addition, their commercial and recreational fisheries are protected in perpetuity.

National marine sanctuaries are not the same as the state's marine protected areas. They do not ban fishing or set limits or seasons. But they do protect fish from the threat of pollution, and, in doing so, they protect the livelihoods of fishermen and the sport of recreational anglers. Point Arena, with its powerful winds and cold waters, has the strongest upwelling in North America. Because of the strength of upwelling and seasonal southerly currents, a natural conveyor belt of food runs through the expansion area to the south as far as Monterey Bay. Unfortunately, if there was an oil spill, those same strong currents would convey a lethal stream of oil to this amazingly beautiful and abundant coastline.

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