Channel Islands

Situated west of Los Angeles, the Channel Islands Biosphere Reserve represents one of the last examples of natural Mediterranean ecosystems in North America and some of the few remaining natural southern California coastal ecosystems.

Characteristic features are coastal sage scrub communities on the islands and exceptionally pristine tidepools on the marine terraces surrounding them.

Declaration Date: 1976
Surface Area: 479,652 ha
Administrative Division: California

Human Activities

Fires, farming and livestock grazing, fishing, military activity, and house and road constructions have altered, to some extent, all of the islands and offshore waters within this biosphere reserve.

Many dominant plant and animal species have been introduced. Channel Islands National Park and National Marine Sanctuary, which maintain visitor centers and offer research and educational programs, are situated within the reserve; Santa Cruz Island Reserve, a University of California Natural Reserve System site, maintains a field station for university-level teaching, research, and public service.

Ecological Characteristics

Eight islands are encompassed within this biosphere reserve, which offers one of the last examples of natural Mediterranean ecosystems in North America and some of the few remaining natural southern California coastal ecosystems.

The area’s major terrestrial ecosystem type is evergreen sclerophyllous woodland, with a coastal/marine component. Characteristic features are coastal sage scrub communities on the islands.

Marine sanctuary waters include 1,128 square nautical miles from mean high tide to 6 nautical miles offshore San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Anacapa, and Santa Barbara Islands. Warm and cool currents support a great variety of flora and fauna, including giant kelp, fish and invertebrates, marine birds, pinnipeds, and cetaceans.

The sanctuary’s secluded, relatively undisturbed waters also provide full or part-time homes for several endangered species, including blue, humpback, and sei whales, southern sea otters, the California brown pelican, and the California least tern.

Protection Classifications

Administrative authorities for this reserve include:

  • the California Department of Fish and Game;
  • the U.S. National Park Service (overseeing Channel Islands National Park);
  • the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (overseeing Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary).


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                                                                                      Last updated : May 2012

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