• Stephanie Maher

The Terrain and Sea Life of Santa Catalina, C.A

Updated: Dec 17, 2021

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Since Chad and I are divers, we have been fascinated with the abundance of sea life within the kelp forests surrounding Santa Catalina Island such as the bright orange Garibaldi, Giant Black Bass and Sea Lions. The sea life that surrounds Catalina is what made the island famous all over the world. Charles Holder (1851-1915), the famous naturalist and prolific writer, had caught a massive 183lb “leaping tuna,” (as he described it) in 1898, and because of the thrill of the catch, he founded the Tuna Club in Avalon the same year. . The Tuna Club became the leader in conservation of sea life through sustainable fishing techniques that are still in use to this day across the nation.

Santa Catalina Island is commonly referred to as the Riviera of the Pacific. Catalina has mild temperatures year-round. The island's arid environment supports drought deciduous shrub lands [1]. Little rain falls on the island. The moisture from coastal fog and the many springs sustains the rich plant life that makes the interior so beautiful. Catalina’s Mediterranean ecosystem sustains desert scrub, chaparral, oak and riparian woodlands and ruderal communities [2]. The less common plant communities include marine meadow, coastal salt flat succulent, coastal dune grassland and freshwater march and aquatic communities.[3]


The island’s landscape is mostly made up of precipitous V-shaped canyons separated by steep sharp ridges.[4] The mountains align by a high ridge generally 1500 ft. high. The main axis of the island runs parallel to the mainland, SE to NW [5]. Minerals such as steatite, quartz, silver and galena can be found on the island.



About 150 Bison had been brought to the island for a Zane Grey Film in 1924 and roam throughout the interior. Rattlesnakes are abundant on the island. The Catalina Island Fox is the largest endemic mammal on the island and can be seen around campsites bravely begging for food. There are over 60 endemic species of plant, animal and insect species found on Catalina. The ravens that fly around Avalon have fascinated me the most because of their big size in comparison to ravens found on the mainland. I have often seen them chasing or flying with hawks while living on Catalina.




Charles Holder had described the landscape and history of Santa Catalina and the other Channel Islands in his many books and publications, especially noting the sea life migratory patterns of big game fish and the necessary fishing hooks, lines, and reels to be used for the sport of fishing. A plaque is dedicated to him that is placed in front of the Tuna Club to recognize his contribution to the tourism economy of Avalon. Charles Holder was among the first to excavate and document archaeological sites, artifacts and human remains on Santa Catalina and the other Channel Islands. Charles Holder excavated 40 townsites from both Santa Catalina and San Clemente.[6] His books include The Channel Islands, An Isle of Summer, and The Adventures of Torqua. All these books still hold up true to the beauty and culture of Avalon and excellent sources for people wanting to learn more about the history and terrain of Catalina.


Up Next: The Bay of Seven Moons, The Forgotten History of Santa Catalina

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[1] Mediterranean Ecosystem - Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov) [2] Thorne, Robert F., A Flora of Santa Catalina Island, 1967, p.6 [3] Thorne, Robert F., A Flora of Santa Catalina Island, 1967, p.6 [4] Thorne, Robert F., A Flora of Santa Catalina Island, 1967, p.1 [5] Thorne, Robert F., A Flora of Santa Catalina Island, 1967 [6] Holder, Charles. Adventures of Torqua 1902 p.37 side note

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