Exploring California’s Marine Protected Areas: Castle Rock Special Closure

Castle Rock
Castle Rock’s mere 14 acres hosts thousands of seabirds every year.    photo by S. Harris, USFWS

As a surfer in northern California, I get to enjoy spectacular views of the California coastline. In between waves, there are times when I look around in awe at the scenery – geometric rock outcroppings, softened by endless treetops, further improved by chance sightings of curious wildlife. Of all the beautiful spots in northern California, one of my favorites is special to more creatures than just surfers – Castle Rock Special Closure.

map
Castle Rock Special Closure   CDFW Marine Region map

Castle Rock (or Castle Island as it reads on some maps) resides half a mile offshore in the turbid waters of the Pacific Ocean. The 14-acre isle can be seen from the quaint town of Crescent City near the Oregon border. It is a seasonal home and valuable pit stop for many animals, providing refuge along the migratory route for several species of sea birds and marine mammals. Examples include common murres, which arrive annually by the tens of thousands to raise chicks, and endangered Steller sea lions which make frequent visits to the island to rest. The island was adopted as a National Wildlife Refuge in 1979, and included as part of the California Coastal National Monument in 2000. The most recent addition of special closure status to the waters surrounding Castle Rock in 2012, and its management as part of the state’s network of marine protected areas (MPAs), further highlights the important habitat it protects.

common murre
Common murre    photo by F. Sharpe, NPS

Castle Rock and the surrounding area have been used by the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation over thousands of years for sustenance, including the gathering of seabird eggs and the hunting of seals from 30- to 40-foot redwood dugout canoes. The turn of the 20th century saw the island as a destination for specialty egg collectors (called oologists) and grazing sheep. Interest in protecting Castle Rock was reignited in the mid-1970s when the Aleutian cackling goose, once on its way to extinction, was observed using the island as a seasonal roosting site.

Steller sea lions
Steller sea lions use Castle Rock as a haul-out site and a place to rest after foraging in the waters around Castle Rock  USFWS photo

Since that time, many studies have highlighted Castle Rock’s unique significance. Surveys have shown that the island hosts more than 100,000 breeding seabirds representing 11 species – the second largest seabird breeding site in California behind Southeast Farallon Island off the coast of San Francisco. This attribute contributed to the creation of Castle Rock Special Closure in December, 2012. The special closure restricts anyone from entering the waters around Castle Rock from the island’s shoreline to 300 feet offshore. The multiple layers of protection for Castle Rock and its surrounding waters – National Wildlife Refuge, National Monument, and now Special Closure – ensures that birds and other marine wildlife have a sanctuary protected from human disturbance.

nesting birds
An aerial view of Castle Rock. The little greenish circles with black centers are nesting cormorants; other birds are common murres.   USFWS photo

Although you can experience California’s MPAs in a myriad of ways, Castle Rock Special Closure is one of those places best enjoyed from a distance – preferably from the top of a surfboard! Believe it or not, you can also experience Castle Rock Special Closure from the comfort of your own home. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Redwood National and State Parks, and Humboldt State University operate a live streaming camera on the island from April through August. You are bound to see a common murre or two, or even glimpse a Steller sea lion. Discover for yourself what makes Castle Rock Special Closure so… special!

Learn more about MPAs by diving into the Exploring California’s Marine Protected Areas series!

streaming cam image
Castle Rock’s seasonal streaming camera operates from April through August   photo courtesy USFWS, RNSP, HSU

post by Leandra Lopez, CDFW Scientific Aid