SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Federal officials are proposing a plan to expand the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary to include the busy waters just west of the Golden Gate Bridge.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's plan would enlarge what is already the biggest ocean refuge in the continental United States. Federal officials plan to discuss the idea at a meeting in San Francisco on Thursday, according to the San Jose Mercury News (bit.ly/O8KvAZ).
The proposal would expand the sanctuary's boundaries by 101 square miles to include the busiest section of the Northern California coast, heavily traveled by oil tankers, container ships and fishing boats.
The marine region stretching form Pedro Point in Pacifica to the Point Bonita Lighthouse in Marin County is home to myriad seabirds, marine mammals and great white sharks.
The expansion could lead to restrictions on fireworks shows near the Golden Gate Bridge as well as the use of personal watercraft and tourist helicopters. It could also lead to more wildlife protection and research money.
"That area is of unparalleled beauty," said Maria Brown, superintendent of the adjacent Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. "We want to protect this area, to make sure our kids and grandkids will have the opportunity to see the amazing wildlife and incredible views that draw people from around the world."
NOAA officials hope to complete required environmental studies by next summer and make a final decision by the end of 2013, Brown said.
President George H.W. Bush created the sanctuary two decades ago. It banned offshore oil drilling along 276 miles of California coast from the Marin Headlands to Hearst Castle.
But the Bush administration excluded the area just west of the Golden Gate Bridge after officials in Oakland and San Francisco complained about the impact of sanctuary restrictions.
Local officials said they want to see more details of the sanctuary expansion plan before they take a position on it.