Geologically, Campus Point SMCA (No-Take) contains two main headlands that form points, with beaches and bays in between, cut and formed from marine terrace deposits. Marine terraces are formed when a shallow sea that has accumulated sediment over millions of years is lifted by tectonic activity.
Natural oil seeps bubble up to the sea floor from reservoirs about 150 feet below the surface. An estimated 10,000 gallons of oil has leaked from these reservoirs each day for the last several hundred thousand years. This is where Coal Oil Point gets its name, and today one can see evidence of natural oil seeps and the oil wells drilled offshore in the form of tarballs that wash up on the beach.
The coastline of Campus Point SMCA (No-Take) is mostly sandy beach with some rocky shoreline, where several species of concern, like western snowy plover, find refuge. This MPA contains a wide variety of ecosystems, including eelgrass and surfgrass beds, rocky reefs, extensive kelp forests, shallow tidepools, natural oil seeps, and sandy shores, each supporting a unique suite of species. At Coal Oil Point, a large reef system exposed during low tide creates extensive tidepools teeming with life, including giant green anemones, California mussels, tidepool sculpins, sea hares, and sea stars. The surfgrass and sandy seafloor areas provide nursery habitat for flatfishes such as halibut, sole, and flounder, which feed on crabs and other invertebrates such as the California spiny lobster.
Offshore, one can find typical Southern California fishes such as garibaldi, California sheephead, and kelp bass swimming through the giant kelp forests. Campus Point SMCA (No-Take) is one of the southernmost areas where sea otters have been spotted, offering potential habitat for this recovering species.
For centuries, Native American Tribes in California have relied on marine and coastal resources. Many Native American Tribes in California continue to regularly harvest marine resources within their ancestral territories and maintain relationships with the coast for ongoing customary uses. Campus Point SMCA (No-Take) lies at the heart of Chumash ancestral territory. Archeological records of Chumash inhabitants reveal evidence of a complex society spanning from Malibu in the south to Morro Bay in the north, as well as the Channel Islands.
Chumash ancestors fostered societies of great complexity and adaptability, including well-established trade routes. The tomol, the traditional Chumash redwood plank canoe, was an essential part of prosperous trading and fishing. Today, contemporary Chumash peoples continue to nurture and revitalize the lifeways of those ancestors.
A Spanish Crown fleet led by European explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo journeyed through the Santa Barbara Channel from Mexico in 1542. European settlement did not occur for another 200 years when the Portola expedition landed in the area. The area around Campus Point SMCA (No-Take) supported small-scale harvest, ranching, and whaling operations.
Big changes came about in 1896 when offshore drilling and oil exploration began in Santa Barbara Channel. The 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, the largest of its time and the third largest in American history, had a devastating impact on the area’s coastal ecosystems. Drilling in state waters has been banned ever since and the now-decommissioned Platform Holly, located directly offshore from Campus Point SMCA (No-Take), is a reminder of that time.
The land in the area was eventually taken over by University of California, Santa Barbara in 1944. The Coal Oil Point Natural Reserve, run by the University of California Natural Reserve System, now protects the natural environment on land in conjunction with ocean protection provided by Campus Point SMCA (No-Take).
On any given day, Campus Point SMCA (No-Take) may be bustling with coastal recreationists. Sunbathers are plentiful on wide sandy expanses of Sands and Devereux Beaches. The waves here are ideal for surfing, and the water is frequently calm enough for a kayak, scuba, or freediving adventure. Divers can explore giant kelp forests full of kelp bass, señorita, California sheephead, surfperch, red and purple sea urchins, California spiny lobster, sea stars, and warty sea cucumbers. Onshore, tidepools exposed during low tide may display anemones, sea hares, mussels, snails, crabs, and limpets, offering a small snapshot of the life found farther offshore.
Campus Point SMCA (No-Take) is a No-Take MPA, so no fishing or harvest of any kind is allowed. Parking and access to the MPA can be found along Del Playa Drive, from which several trails lead down the bluffs to the coast. Walk out to Campus Point, the namesake and eastern boundary of the MPA, for beautiful coastal views, several walking trails, and a good chance to observe migrating whales passing through the Santa Barbara Channel. On the western MPA boundary, Santa Barbara Shores County Park also has several coastal trails offering gorgeous views of these protected waters.