Santa Barbara Island
The smallest of the Channel Islands is deceptive. From a distance, this one-square-mile island may look a bit barren. Upon closer examination, the island offers more than one would expect-an island of resting elephant seals, blooming yellow flowers, tumbling Scripps’s murrelet chicks, and rich cultural history. Santa Barbara Island is the center of a chain of jewels, a crossroads for people and animals.
Santa Barbara Island is 38 miles from the closest point on the mainland. The smallest of the California Channel Islands, it is only one square mile in size, or 639 acres. Formed by underwater volcanic activity, the island is roughly triangular in outline and emerges from the ocean as a giant, twin-peaked mesa with steep cliffs. In 1602 explorer Sebastian Vizcaino named the island in honor of the saint whose day is December 4th, the day he arrived.
Visitors can witness the incredible recovery of the island’s plant life and wildlife after years of habitat and species loss due to ranching and farming activities, including the introduction of nonnative plants, rabbits, and cats. Although nonnative grasses still dominate the landscape, native vegetation is recovering slowly with the help of the National Park Service’s restoration efforts. After winter rains, the native plants of the island come alive with color. The strange tree sunflower, or coreopsis, blossoms with bright yellow bouquets. Other plants, like the endemic Santa Barbara Island live-forever, shrubby buckwheat, chickory, and cream cups, add touches of color to the island’s palette.