Year of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism
Department or School/College
School of Journalism
Jason Begay, Dane Scott
University of Montana
The Chumash Indians have continuously occupied the Central Coast of California for over 13,000 years. Their name translates to “shell people,” deemed so because of their deep ties to their coastal environments. The 13 groups that make up the Chumash were largely dependent on the sea for survival, providing them with grounds for hunting, gathering and transportation. Initially the tribe resided in approximately 150 separate camps along the California coast between Los Angeles and Big Sur.
Many of their historic sites are now submerged in the Pacific Ocean as result of changing sea levels. This sea level rise has occurred gradually as a result of natural climate cycles but has been exacerbated by anthropogenic activities. Based on the sunken sites and the value of the marine ecosystems both to their heritage and to global ecological conservation, the Chumash have submitted a proposal to have the region that spans 90 miles of coast between Santa Barbara and Cambria designated a National Marine Sanctuary.
This designation is highly controversial. While it is likely to have positive impacts on marine biodiversity, a National Marine Sanctuary designation would impose restrictions on coastal area development and any new offshore oil production, potentially impacting local economy. These industries make up a large proportion of the income in the area, and many have expressed concern that a National Marine Sanctuary designation would do more harm than good.
On October 11, 2015, the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary proposal was formally nominated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as one of three regions in the country to be considered for designation. The Secretary of Commerce of the U.S. government, under the influence of public comment, will ultimately determine if the area will be protected.
If the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary is designated, it will link the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary to the north and Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary to the south, effectively preserving a majority of the Central Coast of California as sanctuary waters.
This 26-minute documentary film tells the story of the Chumash and their quest to preserve this important biological region. It includes the voices of the stakeholders advocating for the designation and those in opposition, and depicts the rich biological integrity through underwater videography.
Gerard, Courtney, "Sacred Waters: A tribe’s fight to save their seas" (2017). Graduate Student Theses, Dissertations, & Professional Papers. 11050.
© Copyright 2017 Courtney Gerard