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GUEST OPINION: Protecting underwater habitats

An underwater mountain of granite, called Cordell Bank, rises from the ocean's floor off the coast of Marin and Sonoma counties.

Sponges, anemones, hydrocorals, sea stars and other invertebrates carpet this submerged island in a kaleidoscope of color.

The waters surrounding Cordell Bank are filled with whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals and sea lions and more than 180 species of fishes. The sanctuary is an important feeding area for the largest animal on earth, the blue whale, and breaching humpback whales are frequently seen.

The food-rich waters around Cordell Bank make this area a major feeding destination for thousands of seabirds. Albatrosses nesting in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands "commute" thousands of miles to Cordell Bank to gather food for their chicks.

One hundred years after the creation of the National Parks Service, the United States established the National Marine Sanctuary System to provide protection and management for more than 150,000 square miles of ocean and coastal habitats from the coral reefs of the Florida Keys to the deep — sea canyons of Monterey Bay, to the shipwrecks of Lake Huron.

In 1989, an area about the size of Marin County that included Cordell Bank and the surrounding waters was designated as the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary which is now one of 13 sanctuaries and one Marine National Monument in the National Marine Sanctuary System, managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Our marine sanctuaries are among the most spectacular places in the ocean where rational, thoughtful environmental management has the greatest chance of success. One misconception about the marine sanctuaries is that they prohibit fishing. But this is not the case as across all National Marine Sanctuaries about $4 billion annually is generated in local economies from commercial fishing and recreation-tourist activities, which support approximately 50,000 jobs.

But we need more of these special places. There has not been a single sanctuary designated in the last 12 years. NOAA needs to consider new sites to be designated as marine sanctuaries through a public participatory process, which is important to build trust and support in our communities.

It is up to us to conserve the most important areas of high biodiversity, ecological integrity and cultural legacy.

On this the 40th anniversary of the National Marine Sanctuary System, I am calling on our community and our country to create more, protect more and invest more in national marine sanctuaries.

(Tom Lambert of Sebastopol is president of the Cordell Marine Sanctuary Foundation.)


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