A large area along California's Central Coast is now being considered as a national marine sanctuary.
The proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary marks the first time that the public has nominated a stretch of California coast for this designation.
The formal documents were submitted this week to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for consideration on Monday.
The stretch of coast affected includes both San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties and runs from Cambria to just north of Gaviota. On the water, the area is sandwiched between two already existing Nation Marin Sanctuaries; Monterey Bay to the north and Channel Islands to the south.
Fred Collins is with the Northern Chumash Tribal Council and says this is really the very first big step.
"It's a two-to-four year process," said Collins. "We just set sail on this thing and we're very, very pleased and excited about the momentum and can't say enough good things about the outcome and what it would bring our community."
Currently, the national marine sanctuary system consists of 14 protected areas—with 13 of those being national marine sanctuaries.
NOAA says it still needs to confirm that the Chumash nomination meets its sanctuary criteria. If it does, the proposal will move into the second phase of the process. That second phase takes at least a couple of years and includes a lot of public participation.
A nomination for Lake Michigan, Wisconsin was submitted in December and is still under initial review by NOAA. Two nominations submitted last year have been declined, including Eubalaena Oculina on Florida's northeast Atlantic coast and the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. Mallows Bay on the Potomac River in Maryland had a successful nomination in September and has moved into the secondary consideration process.
National marine sanctuary guidelines include restrictions on the discharge of materials, alteration of the seabed, and the disturbance of cultural resources. Oil and gas exploration and production is also restricted, however there are grandfather exemptions for preexisting operations.