The peculiar opposition to a national marine sanctuary


By Andrew Christie, Chapter Director


I’m looking at very informative piece of paper. It’s the kind of document that says little of value but reveals much more than the author intended.

It purports to represent arguments against the establishment of a Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary on the Central Coast. It is emblazoned with the heading “Our Protected Coast Coalition (OPCC).“  It does not list the members of the purported coalition. Therefore, dear reader, if you, like me, have never heard of the OPCC, then what we seem to have here is an anonymous communique. 

Nevertheless, it was dutifully distributed to the Port San Luis Harbor Commission at their April 28 meeting by Harbor Manager Steve McGrath, after somebody gave it to him. The document (of which Commissioner Mary Matakovich observed, “We don’t know who this is from”) was stitched together like a scarecrow; a rehashing of tropes about the alleged loss of local control, the supposed redundancy of a sanctuary’s protections, etc. – all threadbare arguments, and all wrong.

But here’s the part I want to focus on right now. Under the heading “Claims of Economic Benefit,” the anonymous scribes of the OPCC wrote the following:

A recent article by a local environmental group has claimed significant economic impact tied to a sanctuary designation, however after a peer review of the report, many if not most of the claims are not able to be substantiated with facts. See (put the www. Here).

First: the “article by a local environmental group” was in fact a study commissioned by the Sierra Club that was prepared by the Director of the Center for the Blue Economy at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and the director of the center’s National Ocean Economics Program. The NOEP's methodologies are the international standard for countries seeking to estimate the socioeconomic impacts of their ocean and coastal resources. Sanctuary opponents hate this study because it concludes that acquiring a marine sanctuary would likely result in our local economy growing by, at the most conservative estimate, an annual $23 million and nearly 600 new jobs.

Second, the alleged “peer-reviewed” debunking was referenced by Mr. McGrath at the very same meeting as “in process” and therefore “not available to the commission.”

That becomes clear in the most risible passage in the “OPCC” document, the attempted citation of the allegedly superior study that supports the sweeping statements of the anonymous author(s); the debunking that’s supposed to blow away the conclusions of the economists and marine policy experts and clinch the argument for the opposition. And that citation is:

(put the www. Here).


This is an attempt at an argument by people who refer to an economic study as “an article by a local environmental group,” and distribute a fact sheet to a local elected body in which they base their arguments on a study that has not been completed and is not available to be read, and in attempting to refer officials to that document wind up citing a hopeful editorial placeholder, awaiting a URL that never materialized. The attempt at refutation wound up as a virtual parody of an unsupported claim. And the author(s) didn’t notice.

Neither did the Port Commissioners, a majority of whom announced they were more than ready to issue an official position opposing sanctuary designation and agreeing with arguments like the one above. When several of their colleagues gently suggested that it couldn’t hurt to get more information than what they had before them and had been hearing from sanctuary opponents, they grudgingly agreed to wait until their June meeting to make that deliberation.

As we will point out to the Commissioners come June, the arguments in favor of designating a national marine sanctuary are real, and based on empirical facts. The arguments against such designation are… what they obviously are.

The Commissioners can then decide if they prefer a fact-based reality or the other kind.