Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein (both D-CA) today praised the Senate Commerce Committee’s passage of the Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuaries Boundary Modification and Protection Act. The legislation would permanently protect the coastal waters and estuaries of Sonoma County and portions of Mendocino County by extending the boundaries of existing marine sanctuaries. This area is known to be foraging grounds for the endangered leatherback sea turtle and is part of a larger area proposed as critical habitat for these imperiled marine reptiles.
“This is an important step towards protecting the essential foraging habitat for the leatherback sea turtles from the destructive impacts of offshore oil and gas drilling,” said Teri Shore, program director at the Turtle Island Restoration Network and Sonoma County resident.
The vote occurred today, World Oceans Day, an international day of celebration for oceans conservation.
Senator Feinstein said, “This bill adds nearly 2,100 square nautical miles to the Marine Sanctuaries of the Gulf of Farallones and the Cordell Bank. These waters are not only some of the most beautiful in the world, they are also some of the most biologically diverse. I believe it’s very important that we protect these important marine habitats and ensure they are safe from oil spills and pollution.”
Senator Boxer said, “By expanding these marine sanctuaries, we will help maintain the pristine natural beauty of the Sonoma and Mendocino Coast for future generations while protecting one of the world’s most productive ecosystems and California’s vital coastal economy.”
The bill, which Senators Boxer and Feinstein introduced in January, would expand the boundaries of the two existing National Marine Sanctuaries to protect the entire coastline in Sonoma County and as far north as Point Arena in Mendocino County, adding nearly 2,100 square nautical miles to the sanctuaries. The new boundaries would protect the Russian and Gualala River estuaries and the nutrient-rich Bodega Canyon from offshore oil drilling and pollution. The bill does not impose any additional regulations on fishing, which is under the jurisdiction of the State of California and the Pacific Fisheries Management Council.
The Sonoma and Mendocino coasts are one of the planet’s most biologically productive marine environments. These areas support many species of sea turtles, marine mammals, birds and fishes, including endangered blue and humpback whales. The National Marine Fisheries Service has included the area in its proposal to designate protective critical habitat for Pacific leatherback sea turtles, which have seen populations declines of 95% in recent decades.
The bill has widespread support at the local, state, and national levels, including from the Counties of Mendocino, Sonoma, Marin, and San Francisco; ten cities and towns in the expansion region; the Sonoma County Economic Development Board; the California Coastal Commission and California State Lands Commission; the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and Bodega Bay Fisherman’s Marketing Association; and numerous environmental organizations including the Turtle Island Restoration Network. Similar legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey (D-CA).