National Marine Sanctuaries Shipwrecks

Channel Islands Shipwrecks

Explore shipwrecks from the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary on the West Coast of the U.S.

The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary encompasses 1,658 square miles of ocean and nearshore habitat surrounding San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Anacapa and Santa Barbara Islands. A fertile combination of warm and cool currents results in a great variety of marine life, including forests of giant kelp, flourishing populations of fishes and invertebrates and a wide array of marine mammals and marine birds.

There are many documented shipwrecks in the waters of the sanctuary, such as the California Gold Rush passenger steamer Winfield Scott which stranded on Anacapa Island and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The significant number of shipwrecks within this sanctuary's boundaries can largely be attributed to prevailing currents and weather conditions, combined with natural hazards. The shipwreck remains of the Channel Islands reflect the diverse range of activities and nationalities that traversed the Santa Barbara Channel. European sailing and steam vessels, California-built Chinese junks, American coastal traders, vessels engaged in island commerce, and a Gold Rush-era side-wheel steamer have all been lost in these waters. Each has a story to tell about the history, technology and society of earlier times. Between the years 1853 and 1980, an inventory of over 140 shipwrecks was documented in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and National Park. To date about twenty sites have been located. The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary has a very active shipwreck reconnaissance program, and several of the submerged sites have been recorded through the development of underwater maps.

Data Activity
Part 1: Be a Shipwreck Detective

Print out the chart for the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. (This requires Adobe Acrobat Reader. Click here to download this for free).

Go to the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary Shipwreck Database, and plot the shipwrecks listed in the data table by placing a small x and the shipwreck's name at the spot on the map where the latitude and longitude intersect.

  1. Are there certain areas within your sanctuary that seem more prone to shipwrecks than others? Can you think of any reasons why this may be the case?
  2. Are there certain times of year when there seemed to be more shipwrecks reported? Can you think of any reasons why this might be the case?
  3. How many shipwrecks were reported in your sanctuary before 1942? How many were reported after 1942? Can you think of any reason for this difference?

Check your answers with our Answer Page.

Part 2: Be a Shipwreck Historian

It will be easiest for your students to study the individual historical reports if you have printed them out ahead of time and made copies. In each sanctuary's database, click on the name of the ship to access the historical report. In some cases, a report may contain another link to an image and more information; be sure to print out that information also.

  1. Name two vessels lost in this sanctuary seventy years apart. They were owned by the same company and on the same coastal route at the time of their loss, and each one carried a precious metal as part of its cargo.
  2. Name the vessel that was being used in a famous feature movie when it sank.
  3. Name three vessels built within five years of each other at the same shipyard and lost in this sanctuary within a six-year period.
  4. Name the shipwreck that was engaged in transporting illegal contraband.
  5. The founder of a prominent university in California named this ship in honor of his wife.
  6. What shipwreck caused over 300 passengers to be stranded on an island for eight days; the desolate island was not much more than a rock.
  7. Mariners now have modern technology assisting them in navigating the Pacific West Coast. Would you consider ocean travel? Explain why you are excited about or hesitant about going to sea.

Check your answers with our Answer Page.

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Read Me

Laura Rose, Virginia Sea Grant, Virginia Institute of Marine Science


Grade Level



Lesson Time

1- 3 hrs. (depends on number of sanctuaries explored)



  • Report on the historical background of shipwrecks within a sanctuary.
  • Practice using latitude and longitude by plotting shipwreck locations on a map.
  • Assess the environmental factors contributing to shipwreck locations.
  • Discuss ocean navigation in a historical and modern context.


Radar, Seamount


Materials Required

Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary Chart


Natl. Science Standards

IK-1 IK-2 TK-3 PS5-3 PS9-5



This activity can be short or long, depending on how many sanctuaries (and shipwrecks!)you explore. Credits
Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries


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