The northern Channel Islands were home to many native Chumash communities who are believed to have inhabited the islands for thousands of years. When Europeans first reached the islands in the 16th century, they discovered a rich culture dependent upon the resources of the land and the sea for sustenance and survival. By the nineteenth century, the islands were fulfilling different purposes: vast sheep and cattle ranches occupied Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel islands and the channel waters were aggressively harvested for fish and marine mammals. The remains of ancient Chumash villages are intermingled with historic ranch complexes and later military structures, testifying to the diverse heritage of human experience on these offshore islands. Each of the five Channel Islands has a unique history.
The Channel Islands have attracted many explorers, scientists and historians during the past few centuries. Today, island visitors can explore the world of the native Chumash, walk the shores where European explorers landed, discover new tales from California's ranching history, and witness the remains of off-shore shipwrecks. The oldest human remains in North America, dating to 13,000 B.C., were discovered in 1959 on Santa Rosa Island. It was designated a U.S. National Monument on April 26, 1938, and a National Biosphere Reserve in 1976. It was promoted to a National Park on March 5, 1980.The marine sanctuary established in 1980 extends for six nautical miles around each island. Among the resources it protects are giant kelp forests with nearly a thousand kinds of fish and marine plants.