At Last, Marine Sanctuary Off Olympic Coast To Be Official -- Designation Adds Layer Of Protection To Vulnerable Area
KALALOCH, Jefferson County - Next week, Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, Gov. Mike Lowry and assorted dignitaries will gather on a beach north of here to dedicate the country's 14th national marine sanctuary.
In some respects the July 16 ceremony seems almost anti-climactic.
The 3,000-square-mile Olympic Coast sanctuary has been in the works since 1983. The conflict most responsible for galvanizing support for it in the 1980s was settled two years ago, when Congress banned oil and gas development off the rugged, pristine shore.
Those closest to the new sanctuary acknowledge there will be few noticeable changes when the rules and boundaries become official July 22. Fishing won't be affected, nor will shipping.
"For your average citizen, there will not be that much that will be different," says Todd Jacobs, the sanctuary's manager.
"The initial physical manifestations will be few and far between," says Fred Felleman, Seattle environmentalist, photographer and marine-mammal expert who has probably been the sanctuary's most persistent and vocal advocate during its protracted gestation.
So why does the sanctuary matter?
Because it provides another layer of protection for a pristine area, Felleman says. And because it focuses increased attention on an ecosystem below the sea's flat, featureless surface that, like the old-growth forest, is both diverse and vulnerable.
"This brings the ocean up to tree level," says Felleman, who sits on the board of the Washington Environmental Council.
Marine sanctuaries have been likened to underwater national parks, but there are some important differences. Congress doesn't establish sanctuaries - the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) does.
And there's nothing in the 1972 sanctuary law that says what is and isn't allowed inside their borders. NOAA makes those decisions for each reserve.
The underlying idea behind marine sanctuaries is the same as national parks, however: to protect resources of special national significance. Existing sanctuaries range from a few hundred acres around the wreck of the Civil War ironclad Monitor to 4,000 square miles in and around California's Monterey Bay.
NOAA is considering establishing another in Washington, in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and north Puget Sound.
The agency added the Olympic Coast to its list of potential sanctuary sites in 1983, around the same time another federal bureaucracy, the Minerals Management Service, began making plans to open the area to oil and gas development.
Felleman worked both issues, for national environmental groups and as a consultant to coastal counties. Without the oil threat, he says, the sanctuary proposal probably wouldn't have received the local or regional support it needed.
"No one likes the feds," he says, "but some feds are worse than others. The coastal tribes and the counties ultimately decided the blue hats of NOAA were better than black hats of the MMS."
Congress short-circuited NOAA's sanctuary review in 1988, with a push from Lowry, then a House member. It ordered the agency to designate an Olympic reserve but left the details - boundaries, regulations - up to NOAA.
When the Bush administration balked at a permanent ban on oil and gas development, Congress imposed one in 1992.
Its intertidal habitat is among the most productive in the country. More kinds of kelp and more species of whales, dolphins and porpoises are found offshore than anywhere else in the world.
The coast's broad submarine plateaus and deep underwater canyons are rich in fish. Its headlands and sea stacks host some of the largest seabird colonies in the lower 48 states.
Proposals have surfaced in the past to dredge gravel from the sea floor. That won't be allowed under the sanctuary rules.
Nor will aircraft flights under 2,000 feet near the coastline or offshore rocks. Until last year, military bombers used tiny Sea Lion Rock for target practice.
The sanctuary is starting small. Manager Jacobs, just arrived from California, still is unpacking boxes at his new office in the basement of Port Angeles' federal building.
So far there's only one other employee. Jacobs hopes to hire a research coordinator and an education coordinator by fall.
A 36-foot sanctuary boat is under construction in Edmonds. Jacobs says it should be ready for research and enforcement work by Labor Day.
He talks of building new interpretive displays along the coastline. He'd like to conduct more guided beach walks in conjunction with Olympic National Park. He wants to initiate new educational programs, perhaps in cooperation with Peninsula College's marine laboratory.
The Makah Indian Nation, for one, already is promoting the sanctuary in its tourism brochures. "This will provide international attention for the area," says Dave Sones, the tribe's fisheries enhancement director.
But there's still a rear-guard action to be fought, Felleman says: protecting the coast from oil spills. The barge Nestucca oiled the sanctuary's beaches in 1988, the Japanese fish processor Tenyo Maru in 1991.
The Coast Guard, after consulting with NOAA, has submitted a proposal to the International Maritime Organization to designate most of the sanctuary an "area to be avoided" by vessels carrying oil or chemicals. Adoption could come this fall.
Felleman says the proposal doesn't go far enough, that it should cover freighters and cargo ships as well. "The Tenyo Maru showed us a ship doesn't have to be a tanker to do damage," he says.
He's also working to get a powerful, ocean-going rescue tug stationed at Neah Bay on call to assist foundering vessels off the isolated coast.
No one's figured out how to pay for it yet. But Felleman says the existence of a national marine sanctuary off the coast can only help the effort.
"The sanctuary," he says, "puts a face on the ocean."
------------------ CEREMONY NEXT WEEK ------------------
The dedication ceremony for the new Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary will be at 2:30 p.m. July 16 at Beach 6, a few miles north of Kalaloch, Jefferson County, in Olympic National Park's coastal strip on U.S. Highway 101.
Guided beach walks, an environmental fair and a concert also are scheduled. For more information, phone NOAA's Linda Maxson at 526-4293 or Todd Jacobs at (206) 457-6622.
Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.