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California Marine Sanctuaries Double in Size

WASHINGTON (CN) - The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has finalized an expansion for two marine sanctuaries off the California coast that more than doubles the previously protected areas. In Thursday's action, the agency noted that the expansion includes a "globally significant coastal upwelling center originating off of Point Arena," which is the "regional ecosystem driver" that supports a marine food web comprised of numerous species of algae, invertebrates, fish, birds and marine mammals.

The upwelling provides nutrients that support at least 25 threatened or endangered species and 36 marine mammal species, including whales, seals, dolphins and sea lions, as well as more than a quarter million seabirds, and an important white shark population.

The Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, established in 1989, is 42 miles north of San Francisco. It has been expanded from 529 square miles to 1,286 square miles. The Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, established in 1981, has been expanded from 1,282 square miles to 3,295 square miles, and lies west of northern San Mateo, San Francisco, Marin and southern Sonoma Counties. The two expanded sanctuaries fit together like puzzle pieces and provide a coherent zone of protection stretching from the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in the south to an area north of Point Arena on the Mendocino coast.

In a 2001 review of the sanctuaries, the agency received public support for expanding them. Since 2003, the advisory councils for both sanctuaries have pushed for the expansion, and between 2004 and 2011, California's then-Representative Lynn Woolsey and Senator Barbara Boxer proposed legislation "several times" for expansion, but Congress failed to pass them, according to the action.

"This expansion is the outcome of a tremendous collaborative effort by government, local communities, academia and elected officials to provide additional protection for critical marine resources," Daniel J. Basta, director of the NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, was quoted as saying in the agency's statement. "It presents a bold vision for protecting the waters off the northern California coast for current and future generations."

The final rule is slated to become effective after the close of a forty-five day review period of continuous session of Congress beginning March 12, 2015.

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