Judith Dale: The Islands of the Navy: San Nicolas and San Clemente | Columns
Originally, I was only going to write about the five islands of the Channel Islands National Park. However, some soldiers stationed at Vandenberg Air Force Base asked me if I would do an article on San Nicolas and San Clemente Islands, because they were stationed there.
While researching these islands, I found them just as fascinating as the other islands. Hope you will also like to read about them.
San Nicolas Island
San Nicolas Island is the fifth largest of the eight Channel Islands and the most remote, located 65 miles from the mainland. Its nearest neighbor is Santa Barbara Island, 45 km away. Its oval shape encompasses 14,562 acres, is 10 miles long and 3.6 miles wide at its widest point.
San Nicolas Island is flat with a mesa-shaped profile and steep cliffs. These cliffs are perfect nesting places for seabirds such as cormorants and western gulls. The Little Island Fox reigns as the largest land mammal. The secluded beaches provide resting places for northern elephant seals, harbor seals and California sea lions.
Dense underwater kelp forests surround the island, providing food and shelter for many species of fish, invertebrates and sea otters. Pristine tidal pools surround the island’s rocky shores, home to crabs, abalones. , sea urchins and sea snails.
San Nicolas was once the home of the Nicoleño people, probably linked to the mainland Tongva and the island of Santa Catalina. These natives had large villages and cultivated a thriving culture, trading with the Chumash in the northern Channel Islands and the Nicoleño on the mainland.
This is the third and final article in a series covering the five islands that make up the Channel Islands National Park. The remaining three …
From the mid to late 1700s, Russian and Aleut sea otter hunters came to the island. Men from Nicoleño were killed and women were abducted. When the hunters left, there were less than 100 natives alive. By 1835, the population was reduced to 12 natives, so all were withdrawn from the island and taken on mission to the mainland. A few years after leaving the island, the Nicoleños all died.
Legend has it that a Nicoleño woman jumped off the ship and swam to shore when she realized that her son (or according to some accounts, her younger brother) was not on board. Her son (or younger brother) was killed by a shark while swimming, so she lived alone on the island for 18 years.
In 1853 she was found by Captain George Nidever, who was on a sea otter hunting trip. He took her to Santa Barbara to live with his family. She died seven weeks later of dysentery due to the new diet. His story was used for Scott O’Dell’s award-winning 1961 novel, “The Island of the Blue Dolphins”. Today, a commemorative plaque on his life is on display at the Santa Barbara mission. In 2012, scientists discovered a buried cave on the island where they believed the woman lived.
San Nicolas Island became the property of the US government when California became a state in 1850. From 1902 to 1934, the government leased San Nicolas Island to sheep farmers. Sheep ate many native plants before being removed from the island in 1943.
Thanks to restoration efforts, there are now over 200 different plant species growing on San Nicolas Island, four of which are found nowhere else in the world: an undescribed species of Malacothrix, a member of the sunflower family; phacelia; buckwheat; and a box thorn. The phacelia and thorn in the box may have now disappeared.
Three animals are found on the island and nowhere else: the deer mouse, the island fox, and the nocturnal island lizard. Interestingly, the house cat was one of the biggest threats to the island’s wildlife until it was wiped out from the island in 2012. Cats killed cormorants, gulls, and the nocturnal lizard. from the island. The US Navy has removed cats to protect bird nesting areas. The cats arrived on the island around 1952, brought in by naval officers who worked there. Many cats have been transferred to a specially prepared habitat in Ramona, San Diego County, where they can live indefinitely. The eradication efforts lasted 18 months and cost $ 3 million.
I went to the islands for whale watching, kayaking and hiking, but what did I really know about the Santa Barbara Channel and the history of the islands? How were they trained? What unique plants and animals live in the English Channel and on the islands?
Since 1933, the island of San Nicolas has been placed under the authority of the navy. In 1945, San Nicolas Island was one of eight candidate sites to detonate the first atomic bomb test before White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico was selected. (Thank goodness!) Today, San Nicolas is part of the Sea Test Range of the Pacific Missile Test Center. Four hundred Navy personnel work on projects such as missile tracking and weapon system testing. A 10,000-foot runway accommodates supersonic target aircraft and aircraft from the continent during operations. Facilities for island staff include a bowling alley, cafeteria, and DIY store. Due to military operations, public visitation is prohibited.
Fortunately, the navy has been a good steward of the island. The natural resources of San Nicolas Island are managed by a joint agreement between the Department of the Navy, the Department of the Interior, and the California Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. The US Fish and Wildlife Service is currently working on a sea otter recovery program. Once abundant throughout the Channel Islands, the sea otter was hunted to the brink of extinction for its precious skins. Biologists are relocating animals from the Monterey Bay population, in hopes that an otter colony will once again be established on San Nicolas.
San Clemente Island
San Clemente Island is the southernmost of California’s eight Channel Islands and ranks fourth in size. It is 56 square miles, 21 miles long, and 2-4 miles wide. The island is 41 miles offshore – the second furthest from the mainland. Santa Catalina Island is 34 km to the north. Mount Thirst, at 1,965 feet above sea level, is the highest point on the island. San Clemente Island is in Los Angeles County and was leased to sheep farmers until the Navy recaptured the island in 1934.
Unlike the northern Channel Islands which were once connected by land bridge to each other and to the mainland, the San Clemente, Santa Catalina and San Nicholas Islands are volcanoes and have been isolated for millions of years. The island’s volcanic topography consists of a rugged coastline and steep cliffs. Canyons dissect the coast of the island and there are only a few sandy beaches.
Humans lived on San Clemente Island 10,000 years ago. The indigenous peoples of the island, known as Clementeños, were culturally and linguistically linked to the Tongva peoples of the Los Angeles Basin and the neighboring islands of Catalina and San Nicolas. They were hunter-gatherers and sea-oriented people. The island provided everything they needed, as there was marine life in the kelp beds such as lobster, blacksmith, and sea fish. sheep. Of course, seals and sea otters were plentiful.
Like the natives of the other Channel Islands, the Clementeños population was reduced by European diseases and attacks from otter hunters. In the 1820s, the natives were expelled from San Clemente Island and taken on missions or became servants on Mexican ranches and households around Los Angeles. Some of the island’s natives formed their own village called “La Rancheria de los Pipimares” on farmland located in what is now downtown Los Angeles. In 1840, they were driven out of the village and absorbed into the Tongva people and the wider culture of Southern California.
The Channel Islands are often referred to as the Galapagos Islands of North America because of the 145 unique plants and animals found nowhere else on earth.
Fifteen plants are found only on San Clemente Island. These endemic species include the wildflower brodiaea from San Clemente Island, the Triteleia from San Clemente Island, the Wood Star from San Clemente Island, and the Indian Brush from San Clemente Island, and the shrubs of San Clemente Island Marshmallow and Blair’s Wirelettuce. A unique subspecies of toyon also grows here, as do two rare subspecies of the king’s lark’s foot.
NOTE: Earthworms appear to have been introduced in 2008 into mainland soil used in a road construction project. In this earthworm-free region, worms alter soil and microbial communities, allowing non-native plants to change the island’s unique ecosystem and threaten the biodiversity that exists there.
San Clemente Island also has some unique animals. A species of island fox and deer mouse is endemic to San Clemente. One bird, the San Clemente Loggerhead Shrike, is one of the rarest birds in North America and is only found on San Clemente Island. It is endangered and the Navy, along with other wildlife organizations, is working on a recovery program to ensure its survival.
A threat to native plants and animals were the wild goats, brought in by Spanish sailors in the early 1600s, which roamed the island for centuries. The navy launched a program to rid the island of goats, and by 1980 the population had been reduced to 4,000. A plan to slaughter the remaining goats was blocked in court by the organization Fund for Animals, so the remaining goats were removed using nets and helicopters. Finding the remaining goats in the islands’ steep canyons proved difficult, so the Navy developed an ingenious “Judas Goat Program” to import goats and install tracking devices there. The new goats were looking for the island’s small herds of goats so the Navy could locate them. The program was successful and today all the goats have been transported safely to the mainland so that native plants and animals can thrive.
Today, San Clemente is a major training base for the Navy and Marine Corps. It is the Navy’s only remaining ship-to-shore live fire range. The island is an active sonar base and has a $ 21 million simulated town for commando training. This “fake city” was built in the 2000s and is modeled on Beirut and Baghdad for training in military operations in urban terrain (MOUT). Navy SEALs train on the island; there is a large radar facility, a new 9,300-foot airstrip, a new jetty, and other covert facilities. The Navy is in San Clemente to stay.
Judith Dale has written several articles on the culture, geography and history of the Central Coast. Familiarize yourself with our b…