Sanctuary Split Surprises All
Farr says unilateral decision creates ‘awkward’ situation.
Thursday, March 4, 2004
In move that stunned even Rep. Sam Farr (D-Carmel), the chief administrator of the National Marine Sanctuary program, based in Washington, DC, lopped off the top half of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS) last week and put it under control of the Gulf of Farallones sanctuary.
During a conference call with local media on Feb. 26, Daniel J. Basta, director of the national program, said the boundaries of the MBMNS do not change, only management. The marine sanctuary program is administered by the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an agency of the Commerce Department. The Monterey Bay and Gulf of the Farallones are only two of 14 such protected areas in United States waters.
Explaining his decision, Basta said that citizens living near the northern boundaries felt like management should be in their sphere of influence, not all the way down in Monterey. He attributed the change to “geopolitics,” not personality or some other failure.
“This has been a festering issue for some time,” he said.
The change places the top half of the MBNMS—essentially from the Santa Cruz-San Mateo county line directly west and north to Marin County—under management of the San Francisco-headquartered Gulf of the Farallones Islands sanctuary.
Keeping the boundaries the same but shifting authority will maintain the stringent protections against oil and gas exploration designated in the MBNMS, Basta said.
As this unilateral decision goes into affect, both sanctuaries are in the midst of a major management plan review, clouding what are already somewhat unclear lines of authority.
Rep. Farr was not pleased.
“[I am] surprised at the changes NOAA wants to make now,” he said. “NOAA’s decision splits the baby by having the Gulf of the Farallones Sanctuary completely control a portion of the Monterey Bay sanctuary. This is an awkward arrangement, one that has never been attempted previously.”
Bill Douros, superintendent of the MBNMS, says collaborative work and current programs—such as those to manage agricultural run-off—remain in place. The mission to protect the resource does not change, he says.
“Whether or not this is a decision I would have made, we will now work to implement it,” says Douros.
In fact Basta did not seem so sure himself. At the end of the conference call, he told reporters, “Try to take the high ground in what you write about this. As I’ve said probably 50 times in this conversation, this is a good thing.”
There was no response from any of the reporters on the line, the telephone line went quiet, and then Basta said, “Hello?”