About the Site
Channel Islands National Park  


Park History

Ventura Harbor

Santa Barbara Channel


Anacapa Landing

Anacapa Coast

Anacapa Surface

Anacapa Trails


Anacapa Buildings

Inspiration Point

Arch Rock

Middle Anacapa

West Anacapa

Santa Cruz Island

Prisoner's Harbor

Scorpion Anchorage

Santa Cruz Views

Santa Cruz Trails

Cavern Point

Scorpion Ranch





Santa Barbara Channel

The Channel Islands are separated from mainland California by the Santa Barbara Channel. This body of water flows through the Santa Barbara Basin, which is up to 1500 feet deep. The sea floor contains sea mounts (former underwater volcanoes), escarpments, submarine canyons, steep slopes, and cliffs below the surface.

The mainland coast of California is this location runs in approximately east-west direction. The Santa Barbara Channel, between the islands and the coats, thus also runs east to west, and the northern Channel Islands are oriented in an east-west direction. Below, East Anacapa Island can be seen on the horizon as the island is approached on the channel from the north.

This view of the Santa Barbara Channel is from East Anacapa Island, looking back toward the mainland. The border of the national park extends a nautical mile offshore of the island. Five additional miles are included in the National Marine Sanctuary.

The Santa Barbara Channel features substantial oil resources. Layers of rock contain petroleum deposits which extend from beneath the land on the mainland into the sea under the channel. Oil, in fact, seeps from the bottom of the channel. Coil Oil Pt., which is 10 miles west of Santa Barbara, is the largest underwater oil seep in the world. Natural seepage also results in tar balls on Santa Barbara beaches. The oil is also extracted by oil companies, and oil platforms such as the one shown below can be see while traveling to the Channel Islands.

These oil resources have been recognized since 1793 when George Vancouver saw dissolved tar lying on the surface of the water. The first offshore drilling in the United States took place off of Santa Barbara in 1896. The first real offshore platform was built in 1958. There are dozens of such offshore oil platforms in the channel.

Two mile-wide shipping lanes run through the Santa Barbara Channel, one a north and one a south lane. Dozens of ships per day may be observed passing through the channel. Below a package ship is shown cruising through the waterway, with a section of an island in the background.

In addition to use for shipping and in extracting oil and natural gas, commercial use of the channel includes catching seafood and harvesting of the giant kelp. Seafood gathered includes anchovies, mackerel, bonita, white sea bass, thresher and angel sharks, halibut, swordfish, shrimp, rockfish, spot prawn, salmon, albacore, barracuda, rock cod, lobster, crabs, and slime eels.

Below, the island of Santa Cruz and its mountainous backbone can be seen as a boat approaches the island from the north.

The Santa Barbara Channel contains an unusual confluence of warm and cold currents which creates a transitional zone. Cold waters of the California current flow south and mix with warm northbound waters of the Southern California Counter current. This creates what is called a "gyre" effect in the channel.

Ships in the shipping lanes can be seen frequently in the channel. Below one such craft is visible from Scorpion Bluffs on Santa Cruz Island.

The channel is beautiful near the end of the day as the sun is reflected across the water. Although the water appears calm here, at times there can be sizeable swells.

- Next Page for Channel Islands National Park -

  • All photographs ©Patrick Holleran, Shannon Digital Imaging, 1994-2013

  • Commercial use of the images contained in this document without express written consent is strictly prohibited.

  • Comments and other remarks can be sent via e-mail to parkvision@shannontech.com