Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary
2009 Condition Report

Photo of sea kelp

Summary and Findings

Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary contains spectacularly rich and diverse marine life. With a variety of habitats including kelp forests, sandy bottom, and open ocean, it is home to diverse fish and invertebrate communities, serves as part of the migratory route of whales, and as feeding and breeding grounds for seabirds and marine mammals. Located offshore of Southern California, the sanctuary is adjacent to the growing counties of Ventura and Santa Barbara, and not far from the heavily populated Los Angeles metropolitan area, bringing to it a variety of recreational and commercial human activities, including diving, kayaking, fishing, boating, wildlife viewing, and shipping.

Despite this setting, most water quality parameters at the Channel Islands sanctuary appear to suggest relatively good conditions. For example, though numerous contaminants have been identified, they appear at levels much lower than that of mainland metropolitan areas. Habitat quality and living resource conditions have been degraded somewhat by a variety of human activities, including fishing and boating, as well as changing ocean conditions and disease. The principal threat to maritime archaeological resources in the sanctuary is looting, natural degradation, and the threat of damage from fishing gear or anchors. An additional concern with these historical sites is the fact that once damaged, there is no potential for recovery, as there is for water, habitat, and living resources.

The sanctuary contains a network of marine zones established in state waters in 2003 and extended to the federal boundary in 2007 that will help protect these valuable resources. These marine zones now include 11 no-take zones (also called marine reserves) and two marine conservation areas where some fishing is allowed. In addition, a new management plan for the Channel Islands sanctuary was released in 2009; it recommends a number of management actions that will address concerns of resource protection and management. The plan stresses an ecosystem-based approach to management that requires consideration of ecological interrelationships not only within the sanctuary, but within the larger context of the Santa Barbara Channel. Specific management recommendations include an improved water quality monitoring program, actions to reduce vessel discharges, and directed research on emerging issues.

Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary

  • The Chumash were the first people to inhabit the Channel Islands.
  • The islands were first visited by Europeans in 1542.
  • In the 1800s the islands served as a location for sea otter, seal, and sea lion hunting. Subsequently, the land was cultivated for ranching and farming purposes.
  • The sanctuary was designated on Sept. 22, 1980, and encompasses 1,470 square statute miles (1,110 square nautical miles).
  • In 2003, 12 marine protected areas were designated by the California Department of Fish and Game Commission.
  • In 2007 several of the marine protected areas were extended to the federal boundary and one new area was created.
  • Numerous shipwrecks are located in waters surrounding the islands.
  • The sanctuary is an important area for recreational and commercial use, including diving, kayaking, fishing, boating, wildlife viewing, shipping transit, and research.