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Advisory Panel Offers 2 Competing Plans for Marine Sanctuary

Oceans: In its review of the Channel Islands refuge's boundaries, 20-member group suggests both a tripling and a 13% expansion of protected area.


In a mixed message for marine protection, a citizens advisory panel offered two dramatically different approaches Wednesday for managing waters rich in marine life that surround the Channel Islands off the Ventura County coast.

The 20-member sanctuary advisory council, after more than a year of study, deadlocked over two competing visions for the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. It is the first of a dozen ocean sanctuaries nationwide to undergo boundary revisions attempting to balance the protection of marine life and with economic concerns.

Although the panel agreed to recommend expanded protection for the existing 1,253-square-mile sanctuary, it offered federal managers of those waters divided suggestions over how to proceed.

One recommendation calls for tripling the size of the sanctuary to reach beaches between Santa Maria and Goleta. Eleven new regulations would apply to those waters, potentially affecting personal watercraft, aquaculture farms, offshore oil drilling, shipping and noise-producing activities.

That plan was endorsed by environmental advocates after the panel rejected a more ambitious proposal that would have extended the marine sanctuary to virtually all the beaches, harbors and estuaries of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

"The mission is to preserve the ocean," said council member Dan Secord, a Santa Barbara councilman. "We already have six or so governmental entities that regulate the shore. We don't need any more than we already have."

The panel also voted to endorse one of the least restrictive options, recommending a proposal to expand the marine sanctuary boundaries by about 13%. The option also calls for squaring off existing sanctuary boundaries and rejecting any new regulations for those waters but including a 10-square-mile underwater chemical and munitions dump south of east Santa Cruz Island that could be used as a study site.

The council is made up of scientists, along with representatives from various interest groups from the Central Coast, including the Coast Guard, the Navy, the California Coastal Commission, environmental groups, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, state and federal wildlife agencies and the U.S. Minerals Management Service, which regulates some offshore drilling.

The council's dueling recommendations are nonbinding but will be used to advise managers of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary in preparation for a draft environmental impact statement. That document, which will include a recommended management strategy, will be completed this fall and released for a 60-day public comment period.

A 1992 federal law requires the nation's marine sanctuaries to periodically update their management plans. Ultimately the revised plan must win approval from the Department of Commerce, the governor of California and Congress. It is separate from efforts to expand no-fishing zones around the Channel Islands.

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