Trisha Shetty (Editor)

Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary

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3,807 km²


Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary httpsridbrecreationgovimages1943jpg

Governing body
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Maroon 5 at the channel islands national marine sanctuary reverb service project for whales

The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary is a sanctuary off the Pacific coast of Southern California. The National Marine Sanctuary program is administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.


Map of Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, California, USA

Established May 5, 1980, the sanctuary in the Santa Barbara Channel is an area of national significance because of its exceptional natural beauty and resources. It also had removed sheep from the islands to conserve vegetation among the islands to keep its naturaul beauty with the grass and plants. It has an area of 1,470 square miles (3,800 km2) and encompasses the waters that surround Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel and Santa Barbara Islands (five of the eight Channel Islands of California), extending from mean high tide to 6 nautical miles (11 km) offshore around each of the five islands. The sanctuary is home to an extremely rich and diverse array of marine species, making it one of the best places in the world for viewing whales and other wildlife. It also provides protection to more than 150 historic shipwrecks and is a place of important cultural significance for the Chumash people. Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary provides protection for its natural and cultural resources through education, conservation, science, and stewardship.

The channel islands national marine sanctuary

Recreational activities

There are many ways to enjoy the sanctuary, including world class scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, boating and sailing, viewing whales and other wildlife, and fishing. The sanctuary is home to an extremely rich and diverse array of marine mammals, making it one of the best places in the world for viewing whales and other wildlife. Its beautiful waters and pristine anchorages also make the sanctuary a popular year-round destination for recreation boaters and kayakers. Chartered sailing adventures are available from Santa Barbara Harbor, and guided trips as well as kayak rentals are available.

The sanctuary is a popular destination for recreational fishing, with many chartered trips available out of local harbors. In an effort to balance recreation and conservation, the California Fish and Game Commission established a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) within the nearshore waters of the sanctuary in 2002. NOAA expanded the MPA network into the sanctuary's deeper waters in 2006 and 2007. The entire MPA network consists of 11 marine reserves where all take and harvest is prohibited, and two marine conservation areas that allow limited take of lobster and pelagic fish. This MPA network encompasses 241 square nautical miles (or 318 square miles).

More than 150 historic ships and aircraft have been reported lost within the waters of the sanctuary, although just 25 have been discovered to date. SCUBA divers can enjoy viewing some of the protected wrecks within the sanctuary, but should be mindful that removal of any artifacts is prohibited by federal regulations. The Santa Barbara Maritime Museum is a local resource for learning about shipwrecks and other maritime history in the Santa Barbara Channel.

Visitors to the sanctuary that decide to go ashore can go camping, hiking, and other activities at Channel Islands National Park.


The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary is dedicated to education and outreach. Their many programs help teach about understanding and conservation of marine resources.


The Multicultural Education for Resource Issues Threatening Oceans (MERITO) is a multicultural education program partnered with Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. MERITO (which means ‘merit’ in Spanish) began implementation at CINMS in 2006 and delivers bilingual ocean conservation related products and services to students, teachers, adults, and families living near the Santa Barbara Channel region. A few MERITO program examples are the bilingual outreach program, MERITO internships, and the CINMS sponsored MERITO academy.

Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary visitor centers and exhibits display, promote and interpret the importance of the sanctuary and the resources it protects. Furthermore, the Channel Islands Naturalist Corps,is a group of specially trained volunteers dedicated to educating passengers on board whale watch vessels visiting the sanctuary and Channel Islands National Park.

MPA Education

Sanctuary staff work with the Sanctuary Education Team (SET), a working group of the Sanctuary Advisory Council, to identify target audiences, outreach tools, and delivery methods to communicate messages about the MPA network. Educational tools include: workshops for teachers and students, curriculum materials, signage and exhibits, multimedia products and adult education programs.

Outreach Products

The sanctuary distributes brochures and pamphlets for the public covering topics such as boat safety, scuba diver safety and responsible whale watching to promote responsible use of the sanctuary. The official website also contains additional information such as a shipwreck database, an encyclopedia of species found within the sanctuary, and a marine mammal sightings database.

Teacher and Student Resources

  • Long term Monitoring Program and Experiential Training for Students is an environmental monitoring and education program for students, educators and volunteer groups throughout California to collect rocky intertidal and sandy beach data.
  • MERITO Academy is multicultural education professional development program for 5-8th grade teachers which includes lesson plans, classroom visits and field trips.
  • The NOAA California Bay Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) Program provides funds to support environment-based education throughout the watersheds of San Francisco Bay, Monterey Bay, and Santa Barbara Channel. Funded projects provide meaningful watershed educational experiences to students, teachers, and communities.
  • The mission of NOAA’s Teacher at Sea (TAS) program is to give teachers a clearer insight into our ocean planet, a greater understanding of maritime work and studies, and to increase their level of environmental literacy by fostering an interdisciplinary research experience.
  • Research

    The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary is recognized regularly as an ecologically significant place with tremendous biodiversity. Partnerships have been developed with other government agencies, such as the National Marine Fisheries Service, the National Park Service and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, as well as regional and international academic institutions such as the University of California, Santa Barbara, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Simon Fraser University and the University of Auckland, New Zealand. These partnerships are facilitated by staff research expertise as well as operational support provided by the NOAA research vessels Shearwater and Shark Cat.

    The sanctuary is currently engaging in the following research:

    MPA monitoring

    Within the sanctuary, there is a network of 13 state and federal marine reserves and conservation areas that provide additional protections to the ecosystem. This marine reserves network was established to protect whole ecosystems and restore ecosystem health. One possible effect of marine reserves is that they may provide ”spillover benefits” to areas outside the reserves. Sanctuary staff is currently conducting research on the effectiveness of marine reserves for community dynamics. In one project, performed in collaboration with the Channel Islands National Park and colleagues at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby B.C., staff are evaluating the food web interactions expressed in the long-term, Kelp Forest Monitoring data set that the Channel Islands National Park has been collecting since 1984. That project has revealed that trophic relationships within MPAs are more robust, while outside MPAs these relationships are less so and the food web shows lower resilience and stability. In other work, with colleagues at the University of Auckland, they are examining potential competition between predators protected within MPAs (large fish and lobsters) and fishers who are targeting the prey of those predators (sea urchins). In addition, the sanctuary’s ongoing maintenance of a network of oceanographic sensors provides a data stream that can contribute to our understanding of larval transport and adult animal movement across MPA boundaries.

    Climate variability

    Sanctuary staff are currently looking at how short term changes in climate can affect local conditions across large areas. Their work on the role of variability in jet stream trajectory and strength in determining seasonal variability in central Siberia allows a new and significantly more accurate ability to forecast the arrival of harsh winters several months in advance. This work has contributed to a better, more mechanistic understanding of the connectedness of climate processes across the Northern Hemisphere, from Siberia all the way to the US West Coast. More recently, they are looking at how these same processes manifest in long term data on winds along the Central and Southern California coast to see how climate variability signals can affect local winds in the Santa Barbara Channel area. Variation in wind strength has ecological effects by driving upwelling and also has a practical implication for local mariners: if climate change causes more windy days, there are fewer days for boating and fishing in the sanctuary. Additionally, the sanctuary’s ongoing maintenance of a network of moorings provides a continuous data series of oceanographic conditions in nearshore waters that is informing climate variability studies.


    The Sanctuary Aerial Monitoring and Spatial Analysis Program (SAMSAP) is an ongoing long-term aerial monitoring program that collects data on vessel and visitor use patterns and cetacean populations within the sanctuary. SAMSAP has been active since 1997 and has been instrumental in providing vital data for management, research, and emergency response needs.

    Whale research

    After populations of large whales were decimated by whaling in the last two centuries, several species are rebounding. Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary is a seasonal home to several species of those large whales. From Early Spring to late Fall the sanctuary sees increasing numbers of humpback, blue and fin whales- with seasonally migrating gray whales transiting the sanctuary on their trips between the North Pacific and the lagoons of Baja California. At times, large whales aggregate in tremendous numbers, with as many as 186 unique photo identifications occurring in a single day. Understanding the causes of this aggregation, such as bloom dynamics of the krill the whales feed on, can provide valuable forecasting information to predict where whales are likely to be in the near term. This information in turn could aid in reducing whale-ship interactions. Ongoing work has focused on behavioral responses of large whales to close encounters with large vessels transiting the Santa Barbara Channel. This work is being extended to focus on two problems: how variability in krill depth is key to whale decision making, and how the whales are selecting specific sized prey within pools of mixed-age krill. To get after these questions, sanctuary staff and contractors are combining an ongoing program of tagging large whales with time-depth-location recording tags with systematic mapping of krill fields around the sanctuary. The sanctuary is assisting the work of partners from Cascadia Research Collective and Scripps Institution of Oceanography.


    The Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach is the largest commercial harbor on the west coast with over 6,500 vessels stopping each year. Much of that traffic passes the Santa Barbara Channel and the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary on its way to ports around the Pacific Rim. These vessels are large, with some being over 1,000 feet long, and fast; they can travel at speeds over 20 knots. They also emit significant exhaust into the area and are the principal source of underwater noise in the sanctuary. To keep track of how these ships may affect the sanctuary staff have been building on a long-term program to monitor broad band acoustics in and around the sanctuary. As a first step they are developing data management solutions with partners at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis for two new data streams: broadband acoustic data and Automatic Identification System (AIS) data on ship travel. Although both sources of data were originally developed for other objectives—oceanographic research and safety at sea—these data streams provide valuable information for evaluation of spatial use patterns. For example, recent work evaluating California State air quality rulings on vessel fuel use demonstrated a major change in traffic patterns and emerging conflicts in use of the ocean by shipping and National Defense interests. Evaluating these data in the context of shifts of vessel traffic has also revealed quantitative relationships between economic indicators (numbers of ships and amount of cargo) and noise levels in the sanctuary.

    Deep water communities

    The sanctuary contains a significant amount of deep water habitat: about 91.5% of the sanctuary is deeper than 100 ft. From depths of 100 ft to over 5,000 ft, deep water habitat experiences cold water, almost no light, and low oxygen, yet a variety of specially adapted animals such as corals, sponges, crabs, shrimp, fish, anemones, cucumbers, seastars, and worms reside here. In 2010, a NOAA expedition surveyed an underwater feature in the Footprint Marine Reserve to learn more about the abundance and distribution of coral and sponge habitat and to study the chemistry of the water in which these animals live.

    Maritime Heritage

    Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary is responsible for the protection and preservation of submerged remains of the past that occupy the bottomlands of the sanctuary. Cultural and historic submerged sites include archaeological remains of shipwrecks and prehistoric land sites. Sanctuary stewardship responsibilities include a mandate to inventory sites, encourage research, provide public education and oversee responsible visitor use.


    The northern Channel Islands have been home to the Chumash people for millennia, with the earliest known human remains dating back more than 13,000 years ago. The Chumash community continues to celebrate their maritime heritage through local cultural events, such as an annual crossing of the Santa Barbara Channel on traditional plank canoes known as tomols.

    Protected species

    All species listed are found within Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and are recognized as endangered, threatened, or as a species of concern under the Endangered Species Act and/or California Endangered Species Act.

    Endangered species found within the sanctuary

    The species listed below are categorized by Federal and California state government as endangered:

  • White abalone
  • Tidewater goby
  • Blue whale
  • Humpback whale
  • Fin whale
  • Sei whale
  • Sperm whale
  • California least tern
  • Black abalone
  • Leatherback sea turtle
  • Green sea turtle
  • Threatened species found within the sanctuary

    The species listed below are categorized by Federal and California state government as threatened:

  • Xantus's murrelet (state listed)
  • Southern sea otter
  • Canary rockfish
  • Snowy plover
  • Island Fox
  • Species of concern found within the sanctuary

    The species listed below are categorized by Federal and California state government as species of concern

  • Copper rockfish
  • Brown rockfish
  • Pink abalone
  • Bocaccio rockfish
  • Ashy storm petrel
  • Delisted species found within the sanctuary

    The species listed below are categorized by Federal and California state government as delisted

  • Peregrine falcon
  • Gray whale
  • Brown pelican
  • Bald eagle
  • Steller sea lion
  • Sanctuary Advisory Council

    The Sanctuary Advisory Council was established in December 1998 to assure continued public participation in management of the sanctuary. Since its establishment, the Council has played a vital role in the decisions affecting the sanctuary, bringing valuable community advice and expertise to the task of assuring effective sanctuary management. The Council provides a public forum for consultation and community deliberation on resource management issues affecting the waters surrounding the Channel Islands. It is composed of 21 member and 21 alternate seats that include local stakeholder groups and governmental agencies.

    Threats to the sanctuary

    Protecting the resources of Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary is a collaborative effort involving local, state and federal agencies as well as numerous non-governmental organizations. The sanctuary focuses on education, permitting, regulations, emergency response preparedness, enforcement, and consultation with other agencies to help protect the sanctuary's resources. In addition, staff meet regularly with the Sanctuary Advisory Council for advice on how to ensure appropriate protection and enjoyment of the sanctuary.

    Current threats in the sanctuary include ship strikes on endangered whales, ocean acidification, invasive species, damage to eelgrass beds, marine debris, poaching, and water pollution.


    Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary Wikipedia

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