In 2015, a broad coalition of local leaders, organizations, and businesses submitted a formal nomination to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to establish the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary. This effort was led by the Northern Chumash Tribal Council (NCTC), a women-led nonprofit and California recognized Tribe, and was the first Indigenous-led nomination for a national marine sanctuary. The area being considered is characterized by high biological productivity, supporting high volumes of commercial and noncommercial aquatic species. The presence of a biogeographic transition zone, where temperate waters from the north meet the subtropics, creates an area of nationally significant biodiversity in sea birds, marine mammals, invertebrates, and fishes. The nomination also paid special attention to kelp forests, seagrass beds, and wetlands serving as nursery grounds for numerous commercial fish species and critical habitat for the threatened southern sea otter.
On August 25, 2023, NOAA released a proposal to designate a 5,617 square-mile area offshore of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties in Central California as the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary. The sanctuary will recognize and preserve Chumash tribal history and protect the area’s rich biodiversity. It is expected that the Sanctuary will be designated in mid to late 2024. After this, focus will be on providing input into the management plan developed by NOAA. To make sure that tribal voices are heard as part of this process, the NCTC is looking to sustain the capacity that they have built up through the designation phase of this campaign and incorporate Traditional Ecological Knowledge into the final plan.