Southern Channel Islands
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Santa Barbara Island
Santa Barbara Island (639 acres) is 1.67 miles across at its longest point and lies 73 nautical miles (nm) Southeast of Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara Island is the smallest of all of the California Channel Islands. It is the southern-most island in the Channel Islands National Park and like most of the Channel Islands; it can be seen from the mainland on exceptionally clear days usually in winter. The highest peak on the island is Signal Hill, at 634 feet. While the island is not a volcano it is composed primarily of Miocene volcanic rocks (basalt) interbedded with marine sediments. The steep wave-cut cliffs of its shoreline indicate that this is one of the younger Channel Islands. It exhibits at least six marine terraces; evidence of repeated tectonic uplift and subsidence (called porpoising). Arch Point, on the north-east shore of the island is a 130 ft. arch caused by wave erosion of fault weakened rock. Offshore, there are two named rocks, Shag Rock off the northerly shore (1 acre), and Sutil Island off the southwest end (12 acres). Santa Barbara Island boasts diversity in its habitats, with a few narrow rocky beaches, six canyons, and the badlands area. It is much like Anacapa Island in that it is a haven for sea birds. The steep cliffs and isolation from mainland predators provide safe breeding sites for thousands of sea birds.
Santa Barbara Island is known for its large rookery where you can spend hours diving with sea lions. Photographers get more opportunities to photograph these animals up close here than any Channel Island. The playful, curious pups will pose and frolic in front of a diver’s lens as long as one can stay in the water.
The famous “Arch” is a dive to be remembered at Santa Barbara Island. The top of the reef just breaks the surface at low tide and the bottom of the arch lies in 40 FSW. One of the more unique underwater arches in the world it makes the perfect backdrop for photographers. In addition to the Arch, there are many offshore pinnacles that host shear walls and some of the largest clusters of purple hydrocoral found anywhere.
Lush kelp beds make this island a good location for spear fisherman. Calico bass, white sea bass, yellowtail, and an occasional tuna are among the types of game fish that can be found in the waters surrounding this island. As with all Channel Islands, lobster divers make this a prime destination during season.
Santa Barbara Island can be some of the best scuba diving found offshore but if conditions are rough there are not many areas to seek shelter. Because of its small size, ocean swells can wrap around the island, so planning a trip is weather dependent.