California Coastal National Monument
Coastal Monument Kayaker enjoying the California Coastal National Monument Coastal Monument Sunset over one of the Islands in the California Coastal National Monument Coastal Monument
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California Coastal National Monument

Cultural Dimension

Cultural Resources (Prehistoric & Historic)

California’s offshore rocks and islands were used by humans as early as 13,000 years BP (Moratto 1984). Humans have used these resources as temporary landing areas, resource procurement locations, habitation sites, and landmarks for both offshore and onshore navigation.

Coastal sites and staging areas for prehistoric and ethnographic fishing, marine mammal hunting, and other resource gathering activities are many, and have been reasonably well documented in the archaeological and ethnographic literature. The same is true of islands that are larger or close to the mainland (e.g., the Channel Islands). Because of inaccessibility and lack of development, however, archaeological survey information for smaller offshore islands and rock pinnacles is extremely limited. California Historical Resources Information System (CHRIS) does have information for larger islands that are not part of the CCNM (the Channel Islands and Farallon Islands), which would be useful for predictive modeling for archaeology that may be present in the CCNM. Published ethnographic literature for coastal tribes discuss how these offshore rocks were used for procuring resources and as meeting areas to discuss matters of importance with other villages and tribes (Gould 1978Bean and Theodoratus 1978).

Historical literature and photographs show that offshore rocks and islands have been used for multiple purposes since the arrival of Europeans to the California coast. They have also been responsible for numerous shipwrecks throughout California’s history. Shipwreck debris from the mid-19th century is still present on some offshore rocks (Del Cioppo 1983). Earliest European use of these offshore rocks and islands dates back to the 16th century when explorers first visited the California coast (Cummings 1975). Ships logs from Cabrillo in 1539 and Drake in 1579 indicate that they hunted sea lions and birds on the Farallon Islands and along the northern California coast. Later, the Spanish and Russians used offshore rocks for hunting activities and for docking or anchoring their ships. These rocks were also used to stabilize logging flumes that would convey timber to ships that were anchored offshore due to a lack of a pier or shoreline dock. Some of the offshore rocks and islands also served as locations for navigational aids such as lighthouses (Woodward 1984).

Traditional Cultural Properties

A number of the CCNM rocks and islands may be regarded as traditional cultural properties (TCPs) by the descendants of Native Californian groups in whose ceremonies and mythologies they feature prominently.

TCPs are sites or locations that embody the beliefs, customs, and practices of a living community of people that have been passed down through generations, usually orally or through practice (National Park Service 1990). For many of these groups, offshore rocks and islands play an important role in mythology and cosmology, and may include burial grounds or meeting areas. Offshore rocks and islands also have served, and continue to serve, as traditional resource procurement areas (Kroeber 1925Loeb 1926McLendon and Oswalt 1978).

Visual & Scenic Values

Some of the most spectacular ocean views in the United States are located along the California coast. The California Coastline encompasses one of the most dramatic landscapes in the world, and the offshore rocks and islands are an integral component of the area’s outstanding scenic quality. Protection of the CCNM scenic attributes was a key factor in the area’s designation as a national monument. The monument proclamation begins with: “The islands, rocks, and pinnacles of the California Coastal National Monument overwhelm the viewer, as white-capped waves crash into the vertical cliffs or deeply crevassed surge channels and frothy water empties back into the ocean.”

The coastal character varies greatly between sunny southern California to the shady forests of the north. Views are defined by qualities including perfect sights of ocean waves breaking on rocky shorelines and cliffs, dozens of historical landmarks like Spanish missions and Spanish settlements, and the opportunities to participate in numerous types of outdoor recreation.

The islands and rocks of the CCNM represent a key visual element defining the wild coastline for which California is known. Steep cliff faces rise out of turbulent waters that have eroded away solid rock over hundreds of years to leave monolithic rock behind. Views of arching sea stacks stand monumental amidst crashing waves. This is a dynamic landscape of beauty that commands the viewer’s attention.

As visual resources along the coast, the rocks and islands create distinctive visual patterns and serve as striking and memorable landscape components. In their natural setting, the CCNM’s features represent a landscape that is free from encroaching elements, with high visual integrity. The visual coherence and compositional harmony of the rocks and islands, when considered as a whole, provide a unified landscape that defines the western edge of California.

Recreation & Visitor Access

According to the State’s official web site, California’s tourism is a major part of California’s economy, generating more than $75 billion in direct travel spending, supporting jobs for more than 1 million Californians, and generating $5 billion in direct state and local tax revenue. Tourism is California’s third largest employer and fifth largest contributor to the gross state product.

Coastal recreation and tourism is a significant portion of this industry. It has been estimated that, in 1992, the value of tourism and recreation along the California coast was $9.9 billion. Of this total, $6.6 billion was from direct spending and $3.3 billion was indirect spending estimated from economic income multipliers (Moller and Fitz 1994).

According to the 2000 National Survey on Recreation and the Environment, over 17 million people participated in one or more marine-based recreational activity along California’s coast in 2000. About 5 million arrived from another state and 12 million were California residents. California ranks first in the nation for the total number of state residents that participate in marine-based recreation and second after Florida for the combined total number of tourists and residents (Leeworthy and Wiley 2001). Marine-based recreational activities that occur on and around the monument include swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, surfing, wind surfing, fishing, motor boating, canoeing, kayaking, bird and wildlife watching, filming, and photography.

Recreational pressures tend to be the most intense near the state’s urban centers, and recreational boaters are further concentrated around a limited number of boat ramps. Although there are more than 850 public coastal access points in California, there are far fewer boat launch ramps. While these use patterns, combined with statewide statistics, help identify the overall value and importance of coastal recreation and tourism, there are very few regional, county, or community statistics to help measure and compare the value and importance of these activities at any one point along the coast.

The majority of total State Park attendance for coastal counties (12.6 million participants and 151 million use days) focus on beach-related recreation, most of which occurs in southern California where the proximity to the CCNM rocks and islands is limited (Moller and Fitz 1994). The figures for non-beach waterside-related recreation (1.5 million participants and 20.1 million use days) are probably more relevant and cover areas such as scenic overlooks and rocky coastlines where proximity to the CCNM is likely.

The over 20,000 rocks, islands, and reefs that make up the CCNM are for the most part inaccessible to most recreationists due to their small individual size, location in the rugged surf zone, and lack of landing areas. Therefore, on-island recreation is generally restricted to the few locations where the rocks can be reached from the mainland at low tide or where there is a safe access point from the water. Beyond on-island recreation, recreational activities in the water adjoining the monument, in the air, and on the mainland overlooking the monument can be affected by management activities and in turn can affect the natural and cultural features of the monument.

As for coastal access, approximately 25 percent of the California shoreline is owned by DPR, and another 17 percent of the shoreline is also publicly owned and accessible. More than 850 public access points are available along the coast. These access points are managed by a wide variety of federal, state, and local jurisdictions; access ranges from coastal overlooks on bluffs to full-service parks with boat launches, beaches, and picnicking and camping facilities.

The rocks and islands in the CCNM offer limited public access because they are located offshore, separated from the mainland by heavy surf; are of small average size; and in some instances have steep rock faces. Safety risks, a lack of landing areas, and limited recreational values naturally limit public access to the rocks. However, some rocks accommodate exploration because they are close to the mainland at low tides or because they have safe landing areas for boats. In these cases, people take the opportunity to climb rocks, hike, explore tidepools, and study nature. Whether people can successfully access the monument by watercraft depends on the presence of boat launch ramps, beach access points, marinas, and sea conditions.


Many public and private entities conduct research along the California coast. Various universities, maritime museums, marine sanctuaries, federal and state resource agencies, and nonprofit organizations conduct or sponsor research efforts. A partial list of these institutions is included in Table 3.

Current research efforts have numerous goals. Many programs are in place to better understand the extent and condition of biological resources, while others study the physical processes that affect the coast. Data collection on important cultural and historic locations is ongoing, and other efforts are aimed at understanding the effects of current human activities on coastal resources and processes.

CCNM management staff and BLM field offices currently administer a permit process for institutions or individuals wishing to access the CCNM for research purposes. However, it is not known how many of the research entities along the coast are aware of the requirement to obtain permits from BLM before researchers access the rocks and islands; nor is it known how much research is carried out without permits. Other coastal land-owning agencies (e.g., DoD, DPR, FWS, and NPS) also issue research permits for activity in their jurisdictions, as does NMFS; and DFG issues scientific collecting permits. It is possible that permitted researchers might assume that offshore rocks fall in these agencies’ allowed research areas.

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