Community Spotlight: Channel Islands National Park – An Ecologically-Rich Slice of Historic California

March 8th, 2017

CHIS-DUW-141027-076Located in the Pacific Ocean just off the coast of Southern California sit the Channel Islands, a stunning archipelago of eight unique isles spanning approximately 346 square miles. The islands, San Nicholas, San Clemente, Santa Catalina, Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara (the latter five of which were designated the Channel Islands National Park), give visitors a glimpse of what California used to be.

“The islands are so close to the California mainland, a distance of 14-60 miles offshore, yet they are worlds apart,” said Russell E. Galipeau, Jr., Channel Island National Park Superintendent. “Archeological evidence indicates a human presence in the island some 13,000 years ago. However, it was during the introduction of the Spanish missions to the land in the 1700 and 1800s, an arrival which altered the lifestyle and native economy of the Chumash, as well as contributed to their deadly exposure to European diseases, changed life on the islands forever.”

“For hundreds of years now, the islands have remained relatively untouched and in their natural state, which serves to help foster a living museum if you will, a diverse ecosystem which is home to over 2,000 plant and animal species, 145 of which are found nowhere else in the world.”

In 1980, Congress, recognizing the importance of preserving and protecting The Channel Islands marine ecosystem, founded the Channel Islands National Park to allow for an ongoing ecological monitoring program that would keep its pulse on the area’s health and evolution. The park also serves as a reminder of our past and allows for a historical view and enjoyment of this unique habitat.

“The data we collect is extremely helpful in assisting with conservation and restoration programs, as well as the early identification of critical issues,” said Galipeau.

“We look at the monitoring of the islands as we would a puzzle and continually check to see what pieces might be missing, what is needed, and to ensure that we don’t have pieces that don’t belong.”

“For example,” sites Galipeau, “We’ve identified two nonnative algae that have been encroaching the waters in recent years — Sargassum Algae and Undaria Algae. Undaria Algae originates in South East Asia as is carried on tankers and cargo ships. Specifically, due to our monitoring, this discovery has led to enforcement of new rules about the importance of flushing and cleaning a boat’s hull before entering our waters.”

The park’s remote location and the fact that visitors can only access the islands by boat or commercial flight makes the Channel Islands National Park one of the least visited of all America’s national parks.

“We get about approximately 300-400,000 people who visit the mainland visitor center and land on the islands. This is less than most national parks, however, that’s part of our park’s appeal,” said Galipeau. “Minimal tourism allows for an intimate experience of the island where one can step back into time and experience coastal California as it once was.”

Unlike visits to other national parks on the mainland, visitors to the park’s five islands must plan accordingly, as there are no amenities. Tourists must bring all their personal food and supplies. A sampling of recreational opportunities at the park includes boating, kayaking, diving, swimming, snorkeling, hiking, bird watching, naturalist tours, and camping.

“Beginning in March 2017,” said Galipeau, “Kayak trips, which up until now had to coordinated and booked from the mainland, will be available to be booked when visiting Santa Cruz Island. In addition to having instructors demonstrate how to kayak, informational tours of the island’s ecosystem will be available.”

The park has a host of information and programs to help understand the connection between how we live on the land and how it impacts the health of our ocean.

“With our ‘Channel Islands LIVE,” continued Galipeau, “Visitors to our website get to take a virtual visit to the islands that highlight the park’s natural and cultural resources. For schools throughout the country, we do live broadcasts with an underwater diver where the audience can ask questions and take a tour. We want to build relevancy to connect people to the ocean, and to take them underwater and show them in real time why it’s important we protect this natural resource.

“Festivals like ‘Water: Take 1” are extremely relevant because they not only show all the issues surrounding water and our water resources, but they offer solutions. For example, ‘Only rain down the drain’ and ‘Don’t dump drains to ocean,’ are just a few of the important slogans and messages that have appeared in some of the films submitted to the festival that underscore specific actions individuals can take to make a difference. This type of ‘edutainment’ fosters sustainability on a global scale.”

What Visitors Can Expect: Channel Islands National Park Topography

Anacapa, with its craggy and volcanic landscape, offers a historic lighthouse and is home to beautiful wild flowers. Santa Cruz, the largest and most diverse of the islands, is home to nearly 60 unique plants and animals and has the most recreational activities. Santa Rosa boasts rolling mountains, marshes, rare Torrey Pines, sandstone canyons, walking and hiking trails, and a camp area. San Miguel which, is wild, windy and remote, is an island of extremes. It’s isolated beaches protect the largest accumulation of seals and sea lions. Santa Barbara is a great place to take a guided hike, camp, as well as engage in a variety of water sports or view abundant wildlife.

Visit the Channel Islands National Park website and watch the “Treasure in the Sea” video about the park hosted by Kevin Costner.