Brightly colored coral

Photo: Nathan Coy

Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary

A map showing the location of Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary

Location: Southern California, about 23 miles from Santa Barbara

Size: 1,470 square miles

Designated: 1980

Habitat: Kelp forests, open ocean, rocky reefs, seagrass meadows, shallow sand bottoms

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A diver peering at a fish
4 men paddling a tomol
An elephant seal resing on a beach
A yellow garibaldi

Photos: Robert Schwemmer/NOAA

In kelp forests among five islands off the coast of Southern California, sea lions play, giant sea bass lurk, and California brown pelicans feed. Welcome to Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.

This remote sanctuary encompasses 1,470 square miles off of Anacapa, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, San Miguel, and Santa Rosa islands. The ancestral home of the Chumash people, these islands have a long, rich maritime history and lasting cultural significance. Today, the sanctuary protects exceptional biodiversity, productive ecosystems, sensitive species and habitats, prized fishing grounds, and shipwrecks and other maritime heritage artifacts. With everything from deep-sea coral communities to lush kelp forests, this national marine sanctuary is often called the “Galapagos of North America.”

Nearshore waters within the sanctuary are co-managed with Channel Islands National Park and the state of California. Channel Islands Naturalist Corps volunteers provide educational programming aboard local whale watch vessels and educational cruises. There’s tons to do in this varied sanctuary, from scuba diving and kayaking, to boating and tide pooling—and, of course, spectacular wildlife watching.