The Mini Magical Island of Santa Barbara

en route to Santa Barbara Island

At the end of the calm 40nm passage to Santa Barbara Island Michael hollered: Fish! Fish! The trolling line was buzzing out and the sparkling hues of the fish jumped above the water’s edge. A shining bonito was our first catch of the trip – we were stoked!

Muy Bonito!
Muy Bonito!

A sashimi appetizer followed with green onions, wasabi, and shoyu. You should have seen all our faces as the freshness and deliciousness of the fish caused us all to unanimously raise our eyebrows, in a ‘holy-smokes-this-is-freakin-delicious!’ kind of way. It was the best sashimi I have ever eaten.

Doesn't get much fresher than this
Doesn’t get much fresher than this

It was my first time visiting Santa Barbara Island, the smallest of our local islands, and boy was I taken away by its magic. We pulled into the lee of the island late afternoon with enough daylight to go for a dive. The island was teaming with life.

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Numerous birds flew overhead, and the fish were bountiful below. We speared a sheepshead and an opaleye for a ceviche & fish taco dinner (respectively).

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The crew was aching for exercise, so the following morning just after sunrise, we launched our red skiff Luna-Bell and paddled to shore. The landing on the pier was challenging as the south swell churned the waters into a turbulent mess around us. But we were all able to safely clamber up to shore.

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Jogging around the island felt like the hills of Ireland – rolling, barren and dramatic. The view of Elephant Seal Cove and the giant cliffs in the North side are fantastic!

Elephant seal cove, North Side Santa Barbara Island
Elephant seal cove, North Side Santa Barbara Island

At the National Park Ranger station, we met a biologist named Jim. He showed us the nest of a little tiny native bird called the Scripps Murrelet – it is so furry and cute!

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He said that about 200 years ago there were so many birds that it was hard to walk around the island – then cats and rats brought by ranchers made easy prey of these birds as they hide under bushes instead of flying away. Sheep grazing destroyed the native plants that the birds used as habitat, and in their place the ice plant took over.

Red ice plant covers the hills of Santa Barbara Island
Red ice plant covers the hills of Santa Barbara Island

We thought the ice plant looked so pretty in its red fields around the islands, little did we know it is a vicious little plant, which increases the salinity of the soil resultantly making it uninhabitable for other plants.

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Jim explained the restoration process involved removing the exotic predators from the island as well as planting native bushes, all in the hopes of helping the seabirds find a home again. Great news is that their numbers have increased, especially on Anacapa island. You can support their efforts by checking out their website and visiting this magical island yourself.

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Next up: The Burly Military Island of San Clemente

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