WASHINGTON — After more than a decade of effort by California lawmakers, the Obama administration gave final approval Thursday to a giant expansion of two marine sanctuaries off the coast north of San Francisco that will protect one of the planet’s most prolific ocean ecosystems.
The Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries will more than double to become an area nearly the size of Connecticut. The protected area will now extend north to the waters off Mendocino County.
The area around the Farallon Islands was first protected in 1981 for its rich bird and sea life. The 2,220-square-mile expansion to the north and west covers ocean where an unusual upwelling of cold water, driven by winds, brings nutrients to shallow coastal areas. That in turn encourages intense plankton blooms, reefs and sponges that provide food for fish, marine mammals such as endangered whales, turtles and birds, including the largest seabird colony on the U.S. mainland. It is one of four such areas in the world.
“This protects the food source for the existing sanctuaries,” said Richard Charter, a senior fellow with the nonprofit Ocean Foundation. “This is the base of the food chain.”
The final administrative approval came after two legislative near misses by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and former Rep. Lynn Woolsey, a Petaluma Democrat, who repeatedly tried to protect the area through an act of Congress. The plan had nearly unanimous local support but faced national opposition from the oil and gas industry, which will be barred from exploring the area under the federal designation.
Woolsey started the effort in 1998 and engineered House passage in 2008. Boxer got a companion version through the Senate Commerce Committee in 2009 and 2012, but it failed to reach final passage.
When Woolsey retired in 2012, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco asked her if she had any parting wishes.
…The administrative action skirts resistance by the oil and gas industry and Republicans who, according to Woolsey, shut down attempts to protect the area legislatively after taking over the House majority in 2010.
Rep. Jared Huffman, the San Rafael Democrat who succeeded Woolsey, said getting any environmental protection laws through the current Congress is a long shot. “I’m glad the administration stepped up and used its authority as prior administrations, both Republican and Democrat, have done,” Huffman said. “The whole California coast has been in the crosshairs of oil and gas development for a long time.”
The expansion of the Farallon and Cordell sanctuaries arrives nearly on the one-year anniversary of Obama’s use of the Antiquities Act to declare national-monument status for 1,600 acres of coastline abutting the sanctuaries.
—from SF Gate