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Two California Marine Sanctuaries to Double in Size

Mar 16, 2015 01:32 PM EDT

Two major marine sanctuaries located off the northern California coast are to get a massive upgrade and more than double in size, the Obama administration and NOAA announced last week.

The Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, located off San Francisco, will expand from 529 square miles to over 1,200, while the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary will expand from 1,282 square miles to over 3,200. With this move, officials hope to better protect the region's marine and coastal habitats, biological resources and special ecological features.

"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, said in a statement. "It presents a bold vision for protecting the waters off the northern California coast for current and future generations."

Both of these marine sanctuaries are extremely diverse, made up of wetlands, rocky intertidal habitat, open ocean, and shallow marine banks - the region is often referred to as the "blue Serengeti." These areas have also been identified as one of North America's most productive "nutrient-rich upwelling zones" - a process in which deeper, colder waters rise and replace surface water as it's pushed away by the wind. These colder waters deliver key nutrients to 36 marine mammals and 25 endangered species, including humpback whales, harbor seals, elephant seals, Pacific white-sided dolphins, over a quarter million breeding seabirds, and one of the most significant white shark populations on the planet.

"The expansion will more than double the current size of the Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries, ensuring that we are protecting all that the region has to offer - from its biologically rich habitats primed for fishing and scientific research to the seascapes and shipwrecks that attract tourists and explorers," the White House wrote.

The expansion, which is based on more than a decade of public comment and research by the NOAA and other scientific experts, extends west and north from the original sanctuaries up to Point Arena. Officials will reportedly follow through with the planned expansion before President Obama leaves office.

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