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Kayaking Through a Sea Cave in the Channel Islands

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October 6, 1997 -- Take a boat ride 25 miles off the coast of Santa Barbara and you will find yourself in sanctuary waters. The marine ecosystem that encompasses the Channel Islands --Santa Barbara, Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel--includes habitats ranging from sandy beaches and rocky shores to open ocean and deep rocky reefs. These habitats are home to a number of species. Many of them, such as white abalone and blue whales, are endangered.

The diversity of marine life found in these waters is caused by an unusual mix of physical conditions – the meeting of cold waters from the north Pacific with warm waters flowing from Mexico.

Today, the islands remain largely uninhabited by humans, but that wasn’t always the case. Evidence of prehistoric peoples, thought to be the ancestors of the Chumash Indians, have been found dating back 10,000 years. Archeologists have found many artifacts that document the Chumash’s relationship with the marine environment. These clues enable us to piece together the past of a culture whose recognition of its interdependence with the sea may hold valuable lessons for us today.

Our expedition to the Channel Islands examines our relationship with the sea and the need for scientific research. These are major factors in the designation of not only the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary but all 12 of the program’s sites.

The Radio Expeditions crew traveled to the central Californian coast to explore some of these habitats and to discover what it means to be a National Marine Sanctuary. Whether on board the "Ballena" being pursued by a pod of dolphins, kayaking through Santa Cruz’s "Painted Cave," or snorkeling through the sanctuary’s fragile kelp forests, the Radio Expeditions team found itself surrounded by the beauty and uniqueness of these protected waters.

Trivia: The northern Channel Islands once comprised a single land mass. Today's scientists refer to this historical island as "Santarosae." About 17,000-18,000 years ago, rising water levels off the coast of California divided Santarosae into today's Channel Islands.

Did you know that the Chumash Indians built their sea-braving vessels from planks of driftwood? The use of redwood drift in canoe building was uncommon among Native Americans.

CA Sea Lions
NPR/Radio Expeditions

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