Channel Islands Restoration has worked on Anacapa Island since 2008 and we have worked with every aspect of restoration. In summary, we have conducted ice plant removal, built a native plant nursery, collected seeds from the island and propagated said seeds, installed native plants, and included volunteers and provided educational opportunities throughout every aspect of our work.
Much remains to be done on Anacapa Island, but in partnership with the Park Service, we've accomplished great things.
Anacapa Island is more a chain of islets rather than one large island and because of this, it has a high ratio of coastline to interior. This expanse of ocean bluff and coastline provides critical and/or important habitat for seabirds, marine mammals, and a number of rare plants. The island boasts sixteen plant species that are found only on the Channel Islands, two of which are unique to Anacapa, and the largest breeding population of the formerly critically endangered Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) in California. Anacapa Island is an important breeding location for the Scripps’s murrelet (Synthliboramphus scrippsi), one of the world’s rarest seabirds, and the ashy storm-petrel (Oceanodroma homochroa), a California Species of Special Concern.
The two main forces of habitat degradation on Anacapa Island have been black rats (Rattus rattus), which arrived as stowaways on European ships, and red-flowered iceplant (Malephora crocea) which was brought to the island in the 1930s.
Originally brought to the island by the Coast Guard, non-native invasive iceplant (most notably red-flowered ice plant) quickly formed a dense cover over most of East Anacapa Island. The thick carpet of iceplant overwhelmed many native plants, reduced overall plant diversity, depleted critical food sources upon which the native animals and seabirds depended, and ultimately lead to a massive decline in island biodiversity.
Black rats came to preyed upon seabird nests, pushing available nesting opportunities for Scripps’s murrelets and ashy storm-petrels to the sheer cliff faces of the islands – the only places inaccessible to rats. This is particularly true on the slope below a popular hiking trail that leads to the lighthouse. Much of the slope is completely denuded of vegetation, which further threatens bird habitat with erosion.
In recent years, Channel Islands National Park in collaboration with Channel Islands Restoration has made vast improvements to the habitat of Anacapa Island. In 2008, the NPS successfully removed black rats from the island and the Superintendent challenged Channel Islands National Park to remove all ice plant from Anacapa Island by 2016 – the centennial of the NPS. However, as the NPS began to remove iceplant, it quickly became apparent that the open ground would need to be filled with native plants. If not, the iceplant would reestablish itself. In late 2008/early 2009, the Park Service began working with CIR to restore Anacapa Island. In order to cost effectively get genetically-localized native plants onto Anacapa Island for restoration, the Park determined that a plant nursery on the island was necessary. In 2009, the Great Pacific Ironworks store generously contributed funding to help CIR construct the plant nursery. Since nursery construction was completed in 2011, it has been essential to the propagation of nearly 50,000 native plants grown on-site and planted!
Today, the vast majority of the red-flowered iceplant has been removed, but there’s still work to do and CIR and its many volunteers are stepping up. We have worked to fill the bare open space with native plants such as gum plant, marsh Frankenia, giant Coreopsis and many others. We are also currently working with the NPS and the California Institute of Environmental Studies to replant native habitat on the bare slope northwest of the lighthouse. Unsurprisingly, seabirds have already shown a strong preference for native habitat and the island seems to be alive with life. Our work on Anacapa Island has been a major conduit to advance our mission to educate grade schoolers about our natural world and the importance of native habitat.
When conducting a restoration project, it's vitally important that the plants used are locally native. This means using plants that are not only native to California or our region, but also plants from a restoration site's watershed. In the case of East Anacapa Island restoration, the entire process stayed strictly on island. Seeds were collected on the island, but bringing them back to the mainland for propagation, and then returning the plants to the island would expose the island to stowaway pathogens and weeds from the mainland. We instead built a nursery on the island to keep the entire process contained on the island.