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Aerial photo of Prisoners Harbor area

Protect and enhance resources at Prisoners Harbor

Channel Islands National Park » Protect and enhance resources at Prisoners Harbor » Document List

Prisoners Harbor on Santa Cruz Island is the principal gateway to the largest of the Channel Islands. The harbor sits at the mouth of CaƱada del Puerto, an ephemeral creek that drains 13 square miles of the island's interior, including the island's Central Valley. Historically, the Prisoners area was one of the largest backbarrier coastal wetlands on the Channel Islands. This rare habitat, comprised of a fresh water stream, coastal lagoon/wetland, and riparian woodland, provided respite from the long dry summers for a diverse array of species including the island fox and bald eagle. The wetland most likely served as a resting and feeding stop for migratory birds traveling the Pacific flyway, as well as nesting and foraging habitat for resident waterfowl.

Prisoners Harbor also has an extensive legacy of human occupation: Chumash people occupied a village at the harbor for at least 5,000 years. Nineteenth- and twentieth-century landowners constructed a pier, buildings, and other structures at Prisoners Harbor. To facilitate the island ranching operations and protect their investments at the harbor, ranchers channelized the creek and filled in the adjacent wetland with gravels from the surrounding hills and creekbed. This effectively eliminated the ecological value of the coastal wetland system, its floodplain functions, and much of its biological diversity.


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Paula Power 805-658-5784