Eight islands and numerous islets, rocks, and shoals off the coast of Southern California. The islands and the waters in between provide a variety of unique natural environemts, and a substantial part of the area has been made into the Channel Islands National Park; five of the islands constitute the land portion of the park.

The islands have been called "America's Galapagos", and indeed, their isolation has made them into a laboratory of evolution, producing hundreds of species that are found nowhere else. Unfortunately, many other species have been introduced since the arrival of Europeans. Feral cats and goats threaten the ecosystem of several islands. Deer and elk graze on Santa Rosa, although the cattle have been removed. 14 bison were turned loose on Santa Catalina for a movie; today, 400 now gnaw the island's meadows.

The Channel Islands foreshadow the eventual fate of all of Southern California. They are the tops of several terranes being carried north to Alaska by the Pacific Plate. These terranes were born as the Pacific Plate rubbed up against the North American Plate, tearing off chunks of basalt formations created earlier by the ancient Farallon Plate's subduction volcanoes.

Although the northern Channel Islands appear to be an extension of the Santa Monica Mountans to the east, the Santa Barbara Channel that separates them gets as deep as 240 meters (c. 700 feet). During the Ice Ages of the Pleistocene, the four northern Channel Islands were a single island, which geologists call Santarosae. This environment drove the evolution of the Islands' most famous fossil, the pygmy mammoth, whose skeletons can be found on San Miguel, Santa Cruz, and Santa Rosa.

The Chumash and Gabrielino peoples inhabited the larger islands beginning about 6000 years ago. In 1542 Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo discovered the islands but died after a fall. The islands received their names under varous circumstances over the next two centuries, but they were fixed when George Vancouver mapped them in 1793. The Spanish removed the Chumash in he early 1800s.

Seal hunters decimated the seals and sea lions along the coasts in the late 1700s into the 1800s; after the Spanish removed the Chumash in the 1800s, ranchers moved in. The Federal Government began acquiring the islands during the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt; some islands became naval facilities, the two smallest were protected as national monuments. The monument was expanded to include Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and part of Santa Cruz in 1976.

Each island appears next to its list number on the map below.

  1. San Miguel (8,960 acres) is mostly flat and treeless. Every year, tens of thousands of seals breed on its beaches, especially the huge sandy expanse at Point Bennett on the western tip.
  2. Santa Rosa (52,794 acres) is mountainous in the south and east, giving way to flatter terrain in the north and west. Until it was acquired by the National Park Service in 1986, it was a cattle ranch and hunting preserve for its private owners.
  3. Santa Cruz, (61,440 acres, 96 sq mi, 249 sq km) is the largest island, also containing its highest point, 740 m. The western nine-tenths of the island is owned by The Nature Conservancy, the rest by the US Government,
  4. Anacapa (717 acres, 290 hectares) is a thin strip that has been eroded into three sections. The west section is relatively hilly and is the principal West Coast breeding area for the Brown Pelican.
  5. Tiny Santa Barbara (640 acres, 260 hectares, 1 sq mi) stands in the middle of all the islands. Visited by Indians, and conquistadores, but lacking in fresh water. It took he US Navy to establish any lasting presence, an early listening outpost during WWII.
  6. San Nicolas (14,080 acres) is owned by the a Navy, and has a radar installation and a landing strip.
  7. Santa Catalina (48,000 acres) is the most developed of the islands, The town of Avalon, a frequent stop for cruise ships, had a population of 3,127 in the year 2000. From 1919-1975, the island was owned by chewing gum tycoon William Wrigley and contained the Chicago Cubs' training camp. Wrigley's holdings are now owned by a private conservancy organization.
  8. San Clemente (35,480 acres) was acquired by the Navy in 1934. Once used as a bombing range, most of the island is wild, and is now used for amphibious landing training and a support base for ship gunnery targets.

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Maintour Ventura Vacation Adventure
Channel Islands National Park

United States National Park Service
Channel Islands National Park, California
Geology fieldnotes

Eric Wegryn
Southern California Field trip - The Channel Islands

The Channel Islands are an archipelago in the English Channel, composed of Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark, Herm, Brechou, Jethou and Lihou; of these, the first four are the principal islands, the others being largely uninhabited. Located approximately 10-20 miles from the French coast and 40-50 from the British. Most Channel Islands residents speak English and French and there is also a local patois, a mixture of English and Norman French, which is still spoken by some of the older generation, although it is dying out.

The archipelago is comprised of three sovereign states: The Bailiwick of Guernsey, the Bailiwick of Jersey, and Sark. Alderney is part of Guernsey; Sark is technically a part of Guernsey, but is held in fief by the Seigneur, who is a vassal of the English monarch (although the island is so small that it has significant links with the bailiwick).

Each of the states is a dependency of the English Crown, which essentially means that the Crown still plays a part in their constitution, and that there may be feudal dues due to the Crown. The Crown also provides for their foreign affairs and defence. The two bailiwicks are representative democracies, with the English monarch as their head of state, and the Privy Council (Sa majeste en conseil) as their upper chamber and final court of appeal. Their executive is appointed by the crown, typically on the recomendation of the States - their parliament, not the US of A. This means that the Queen, typically by the vote of the Privy Council may refuse to sign any law passed by the parliaments of the bailiwicks into law. Sark is Europe's last feudal state, although where the Seigneur does not reign supreme (even subject to paying his duties to the Crown), with power being held by the local unicameral legislature (including a small elected portion), and the various officers of the crown, as well as officers appointed by the seigneur. (Note the power now allowed to the Prince of Liechtenstein, however). This helps explain why no motor vehicles are allowed there (Except tractors). Each bailiwick issues its own money, stamps, tax regime, etc.; the Guernsey Pound is defined to be the same as the Pound Sterling, and is used throughout the bailiwick, including Sark. Guernsey has its own tld, .gg

The economy of the islands, due to climate, natural resources, and tax regime, are based on agriculture, tourism, financial services, and the national budgets are largely drawn from corporation tax and income tax on foreigners. Each year, the national budgets are in surplus, but the welfare states they offer are appalling, being based on applications for poverty relief to one's parish.

During World War II, the islands were occupied by the Nazis, whose reign was (comparatively) benevolent, to the extent where certain laws remain from that era, signed into law by "Monsieur Le Commandant". Contemporary photographs taken on the islands show images which look almost surreal today: Gestapo officers standing next to a traditional British "bobby" and so on. Although there were only a couple of dozen Jews on the islands at the time of the Nazi invasion, they were treated in the same fashion as Jews in the other Nazi-occupied countries in Europe, although to the Islanders' credit many of them risked their lives to shelter and hide Jews from the SS officers who came looking for them.

Sources: My own knowledge, a bit of web research, and Segnbora-t's and Iain's WU.

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