Station Channel Islands: Protecting North America’s Galapagos

Story by Amanda Lewis

Photos by Coast Guard Auxiliarist Michael Brodey

Probably few people have heard of Oxnard, California, the home of Coast Guard Station Channel Islands Harbor. Fewer still could pronounce its neighbor and close partner, Port Hueneme (wy-nee-mee), which is nestled along the coast about an hour north of Los Angeles and 45 minutes south of Santa Barbara. Despite its relative obscurity, Station Channel Islands Harbor is a gem with a unique operational environment.

A Coast Guard Station Channel Islands Harbor 45-foot Response Boat-Medium conducts a patrol. Photo by Coast Guard Auxiliarist Michael Brodey.

A Coast Guard Station Channel Islands Harbor 45-foot Response Boat-Medium conducts a patrol. Photo by Coast Guard Auxiliarist Michael Brodey.

As the name suggests, located in the unit’s area of responsibility roughly a dozen miles offshore at their nearest point are the Channel Islands , which are Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, Santa Barbara and San Nicolas Islands. The six islands are often hailed as the Galapagos of North America due to their ecological diversity and number of endemic species — unique creatures that exist nowhere else on the planet.

Each island, for instance, has its own individual sub-species of fox. Collectively, 145 of the species found on the Channel Islands are only found on the Channel Islands. Moreover, these islands have a rich cultural heritage. Native Chumash Indians inhabited the islands for thousands of years, and the “Arlington Springs Man,” human remains thought to be the oldest in North America, were found on Santa Rosa Island, showing evidence of habitation and the use of watercraft in the area more than 13,000 years ago.

More recently, in the early 20th century the Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard all used or established posts on the islands. Light towers were erected on Anacapa and Santa Barbara Islands shortly after the turn of the century, with a full light station constructed on East Anacapa Island in the 1930s, due in part to a history of shipwrecks around the islands and throughout the Santa Barbara Channel. At least 33 ships are estimated to have wrecked in the Santa Barbara Channel between 1850 and 1900, most infamously including the Winfield Scott, a mail steamship that carried more than 300 passengers and crew and more than $1 million in gold when it crashed into rocks at Anacapa Island and sank in 1853.

A kayaker paddles on the waters of Channel Islands Harbor. Photo by Coast Guard Auxiliarist Michael Brodey.

A kayaker paddles on the waters of Channel Islands Harbor. Photo by Coast Guard Auxiliarist Michael Brodey.

Currently, the five northern islands (Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel and Santa Barbara) are managed by the National Park Service as part of the Channel Islands National Park. Extending six miles offshore from each island is the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary — one of only 14 federally designated marine protected areas in the nation. Station Channel Islands Harbor is a key partner in protecting marine resources and ensuring the safety of the boating public in this sensitive area, popular for fishing, scuba diving, whale-watching and kayaking. Especially popular among kayakers are the island caves.

Most notably, Painted Cave on Santa Cruz Island, one of the longest sea caves in the world, stretching 1,215 feet long — a span of roughly four football fields and boasting a 160-foot entrance. The waters of the Santa Barbara Channel and those surrounding the Channel Islands, as you can see, offer an array of recreational opportunities; however, they can be unforgiving and unexpectedly treacherous accounting for a vast majority of the search-and-rescue cases for the station.

 

Tags: , ,