In the next few years, Monterey Bay might officially become world class.
William Douros, the West Coast regional director for the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, has nominated the waters off the Central California coast for UNESCO World Heritage site status.
“It seems like everyone thought this was a really good idea,” he says. “I think it’s a great nomination.”
The idea first began percolating five years ago, when Douros was at meetings in Washington, D.C. At the time, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was engaging with the World Heritage program for the first time, and the agency was interested in learning which sites under its purview might be up for a future nomination.
It was then that Douros, along with other scientists, concluded the waters off the Central Coast would be a “fantastic location” for a World Heritage site. That revelation came at a crucial turning point in human understanding of the Northern Pacific Ocean.
Hopkins Marine Station scientist Barbara Block, a vocal proponent of the UNESCO nomination, was among a team of scientists that had just completed a 10-year tagging program of predators in the Pacific. For the first time ever, scientists were able to track the migratory patterns of things like great white sharks and Pacific bluefin tuna.
The picture of local waters painted by those migratory patterns was stunning, and revealed what Block calls “one of the most pristine predation habitats on the planet,” something akin to a watering hole in Africa, but one that attracts animals from as far away as New Zealand and Indonesia.
“It’s the best lunch spot in town,” she says. “It’s the McDonald’s of the Pacific.”
The area in Douros’ proposal roughly encompasses three contiguous marine sanctuaries – Monterey Bay, Greater Farallones and Cordell Bank – and is tentatively titled the California Current Conservation Complex.
While the name might not be catchy, it is reflective of why the waters off the Central Coast are so rich with life. On one hand, the current that travels south down our coast from Alaska brings cold, productive water and contributes to upwelling, while Monterey Bay’s own upwelling phenomenon brings even more nutrients up from the deep. The coastal waters are also one of the most protected marine areas on Earth, and the combination of those factors have resulted in what Block calls “one of the hottest spots in nature.”
Douros says the nomination will be reviewed by the National Park Service in October, and if it passes muster, he’ll begin working on a proposal for UNESCO. If the designation is ultimately granted, Douros says, it likely wouldn’t happen for a few years.
He’s optimistic it will happen, for several reasons. One is that cultural World Heritage sites presently outnumber natural sites by about a 4-to-1 margin. And of the natural sites, most are on land. Of those in the ocean, Douros says, very few are in temperate waters.
That means local waters would fill an underrepresented niche in the U.N.’s World Heritage program.
James Lindholm, a marine scientist at CSU Monterey Bay, stresses the designation would bring no added management or regulations. “It’s really about notoriety,” he says. “This designation will only solidify recognition of what is already an extraordinary place.”