Behind a Proposal to Create a Marine Sanctuary Along California’s Central Coast

The scent of sage and the sounds of a traditional Chumash song filled the air on a recent gray afternoon in Morro Bay. Waves crashed against a nearby breakwater as Morro Rock, a 576-foot volcanic plug, loomed dramatically behind us.

This was Rally at the Rock, a call to action from the Northern Chumash tribe in support of the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary. The proposal would transform a stretch of the California coastline from Cambria to Gaviota, protecting an area of 7,573 square miles on and offshore that is in one of the most ecologically diverse places in the world, limiting oil drilling and providing more funding for research.

In an article published today by The New York Times, I wrote about what the proposal might mean for the Central Coast. The sanctuary is billed as the first of its kind in the United States to be tribal-led, and it could introduce a different kind of tourism in the region, one centered on Native history, culture and knowledge. You can read my article here.

Years of work by the Northern Chumash Tribal Council will come to a head tomorrow with the close of a final public comment period on the proposal. The comment period is the last step before the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration finalizes the plan and sends it to Congress for designation.

In order to allow for a large offshore wind energy project, however, NOAA has suggested removing from the proposed sanctuary a section of coastline that includes Morro Bay — making the opportunity for public comment all the more significant.

Morro Bay has always been “the center of our commerce and community,” said Violet Sage Walker, a Northern Chumash Tribal Council chairwoman and spokeswoman for the sanctuary proposal. The bay is home to significant Chumash sacred sites, including Morro Rock, which was always meant by the tribe to be the hub of the sanctuary. NOAA will determine the proposed sanctuary’s final boundaries in the next few months.

On the afternoon of my visit to Morro Bay, I was struck by how much support the effort had drawn, both in the local community and among Indigenous people across the Pacific. Despite recently losing his home in Lahaina, Hawaii, in the devastating Maui wildfires, Solomon Kaho’ohalahala, co-founder of a conservation group called the Maui Nui Makai Network, attended and spoke at the rally. He said he felt it was essential to lend support to the Chumash.

“We all live in the same ocean,” he said. “Those resources are fluid; to think that we can draw a line through it and protect just one part is not true.”

The idea of intertribal collaboration has powerful implications for efforts to protect other lands and waters that have been historically inhabited and cared for by Indigenous people, including proposed marine sanctuaries in Hawaii and the Pacific Remote Islands.

Today’s tip comes from Jorge Moreno, spokesman for California State Parks. He recommends visiting Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area in Borrego Springs:

“Here, 85,000 acres of magnificent desert terrain are used for off-road exploration and recreation. The Ocotillo Wells is too hot during the summer months because it’s in the low desert, but the cooler temperatures of fall make it very comfortable to visit. The S.V.R.A. is a great place to camp over a weekend and enjoy the off-roading as well as to enjoy the stars at night, view wildlife and really get a sense of being in the middle of nowhere. A site to explore is Barrel Springs with its mesquite sand dunes, which are an oasis for wildlife. The springs seep from the ground, especially after a heavy rain. Coyotes often dig holes to drink. Part of the area is designated as a cultural preserve. Some of the dunes have been fenced off to allow for natural restoration.”

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected]. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

Today we’re asking about love: not whom you love but what you love about your corner of California.

Email us a love letter to your California city, neighborhood or region — or to the Golden State as a whole — and we may share it in an upcoming newsletter. You can reach the team at [email protected].

The Legion of Honor, a museum in the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco network, is opening an exhibition dedicated to the drawings of the renowned Italian Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli.

The exhibition, called “Botticelli Drawings,” explores the role that drawing played in the painter’s corpus of work, and how his drawings gave shape to some of his most famous paintings.

The show brings together for the first time a majority of Botticelli’s surviving drawings, with works on loan from 39 institutions around the world. The drawings will be displayed in tandem with the resulting paintings, including “The Adoration of the Magi” and others from internationally recognized museums such as the National Gallery in London, the Galleria Borghese in Rome and the Musée du Louvre in Paris.

The show will also showcase five newly attributed drawings, made possible by extensive research conducted by the show’s curator, Furio Rinaldi of the Fine Arts Museums.

Visitors to the Bay Area will get a chance to view Botticelli’s artistic process from start to finish, or sketch to canvas, beginning on Nov. 19. The show will run through February 2024. Read more about how to see it here.

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