The Science of Sustainability

Producer's Notes: The Farallon Islands—"California's Galapagos"

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The Galapagos of California: The Farallon Islands.

Every so often the fog retreats from my neighborhood in San Francisco, moves out to sea and we are blessed with a world-class sunset. Adding to the oranges and reds, yellows and spiraling indigos of the evening sky, it also gives us a special chance to see the silhouette of the strange jagged fist of rock breaking up the crisp line of the horizon. I have gazed out upon the Farallon Islands for years. The archipelago is clearly the wildest part of The City-seemingly always just out of reach. (Many people don’t realize that these little islands are actually part of the City of San Francisco.) Since they are a federally protected wildlife refuge, they’re completely closed to the public. So to get a chance to actually set foot on South Farallon Island was an absolute honor.

We’ve tried to share the experience in as many ways as we can. I encourage everyone to really explore the islands through Quest. In addition to the television story, we have a radio presentation with reporter’s notes, a web exploration with video and stills, a unique audio slideshow, an interactive history timeline (also embedded below) and a Flickr set. We’ll also be adding another web-only video story and education guide. The only things we couldn’t bring you are the smell and chill of the wind. But we’ll get on that.

Farallon Islands History: Interactive Timeline

Farallon Islands History on Dipity. Produced by Dan Gillick.


Watch the The Farallon Islands – "California's Galapagos" television story online.


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Category: Biology, Environment

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Chris Bauer

About the Author ()

Chris Bauer is a Media Producer for QUEST. Chris has nearly 20 years experience working in broadcast television; producing sports, history, technology, science, environment and adventure related programming. He is a two-time winner of the international Society of Environmental Journalists Award for Outstanding Television Story and has received multiple Northern California Emmy Awards. Some of his Quest stories have been featured in the San Francisco Ocean Film Festival, Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, United Nations Association Film Festival, the BLUE Ocean Film Festival and the Environmental Film Festival in Washington DC. A 5th generation Bay Area resident and a graduate of St. Mary's College of California, his hobbies include canoeing, snowboarding, wood-working and trying to play the ukulele. He and his family live in San Francisco.
  • http://www.greenplanetfilms.org Suzanne Harle

    Thank you for the show on the Farallon Islands. I always wondered what life on the island was like and glad to see so many seabirds live there. After years of people plundering the oceans and its wildlife, I agree that the tables are now turning and people are aware that for every action, there is a re-action. I look forward to watching the show tonight. Chris, great to meet you at the recent Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival and congratulations to QUEST for the award.

  • Stewart

    Really a nice little show. But I think the segment's title is a misnomer. When one thinks of the Galapagos, one thinks of a chain of islands containing a large number of exotic animal species found no where else in the world.

  • Chris Bauer

    Very true Stewart. Thanks for bringing this up. When I first heard some scientists, researchers and wildlife managers use the term “Galapagos of California” I found myself asking the same question. But the more we talked, the more I came to embrace the metaphor. (And it clearly is meant to just be a metaphor) While there actually are some unique species of plants and animals that are found only on the Farallon Islands, the vast majority of the wildlife that live there are migratory species that use the place as a resting and breeding site, coming and going with the changing seasons. That should not and does not diminish the status of the islands within the local ecosystem or in fact, their importance for many migratory and pelagic species up and down the Pacific.

    The Farallones and Galapagos Islands are clearly very different… Starting with size, location and varying levels of unique plants and animals. There is a wide gap.

    But the two places can be compared by their general wildness and importance to wildlife. And I think that is why some people use the metaphor “Galapagos of California”. It is to help remind us of the often forgotten or never known existence and significance of the Farallon Islands. When we compare them to the Galapagos people might better appreciate and understand how vital this place is.

    Another question that struck me while thinking more about this metaphor- What would have happened to the Galapagos if they sat just 26-28 miles off the mainland?

  • Chris Bauer

    The Gulf of the Farallones is an incredibly rich and abundant marine ecosystem. Fishermen have plied these waters for generations and much of the seafood we see on our dinner tables comes from this area. It might seem absurd that the US Government would see fit to dump nuclear waste where we get our food. But that is in fact the case. Dilution is the solution to pollution…. Or is that “Delusion is the solution to pollution?” I always get those mixed up. To read an interesting blog post on the history of nuclear waste dumping at the Farallones, see:
    http://driftsurfing.com/blog/?p=3827

  • Chris Bauer

    STORY UPDATE: A bit of good news from the NPS and Parks Conservancy-

    "Life Abounds in Local Marine Sanctuaries Research staff from Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuaries and PRBO Conservation Science recently finished a 10-day monitoring project as part of the ACCESS (Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies) partnership. The team found a tremendous diversity of marine mammals and seabirds including Cassin's auklets and Blue whales that have not been seen in this area since 2004. Get the full story at http://accessoceans.org/ and on the ACCESS Facebook page ."

  • Chris Bauer

    STORY UPDATE: "Federal wildlife regulators are considering carpet-bombing the Farallon Islands next fall with potent pesticides aimed at eradicating hordes of house mice, an invasive population grown so large officials say it has radically altered the islands' ecology and now threatens rare seabirds."

    Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/05/12/BALN1JFI64.DTL#ixzz1MFXTwHif

  • Chris Bauer

    STORY UPDATE: "A proposal to eradicate tens of thousands of mice from the Farallon Islands could involve dropping a payload of poison pellets, all in the name of preserving a fragile seabird population."

    Read more here: http://www.sfexaminer.com/local/2011/06/survival-farallon-birds-hangs-eradicating-rodents#ixzz1PpolRFm1