Vandenberg State Marine Reserve

clear blue skies mixed with marine fog blend mountain ranges into the horizon, the shoreline is clearly sand and tan wrapping to one side making a half moon shape, in the foreground iceplant, a ground cover succulent, meets a wooden fence, with clear tan sand meeting the ocean on the other side

Overview

Vandenberg State Marine Reserve (SMR) is a remote marine protected area (MPA) that lies just offshore from Vandenberg Space Force Base (previously Vandenberg Air Force Base), on the northern side of Point Conception, about 70 miles west of Santa Barbara. It covers nearly 33 square miles of diverse ocean habitat and spans from shore to depths greater than 120 feet. This SMR contains a combination of sandy beach, rocky reef, marsh, tidal flat, and estuary habitats.

Fishes, marine mammals, and resident and migratory seabirds abound in this area, which is near the convergence zone of the southbound California Current and warmer northbound currents. The marine environment around Point Conception, including Vandenberg SMR, reflects this blending of temperatures in its mix of resident and migratory cold-water and warm-water species. Vandenberg SMR is closed to public access without specific authorization from the United States Air Force.

Regulations

It is unlawful to injure, damage, take, or possess any living, geological, or cultural marine resource.

California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 632(b)(95)(opens in new tab)

Quick Facts

   MPA size: 32.91 square miles

Shoreline span: 14.5 miles

Depth range: 0 to 127 feet

Habitat composition:

  • Rock: 7.04 square miles
  • Sand/mud: 30.07 square miles

Photo Gallery

Video Gallery


California's MPA Network

About Vandenberg State Marine Reserve

Natural History

perched on a flat rock protruding from gentle ocean water, a greater yellow legs rests, long yellow legs meet white belly feathers, feathers along the back and sides are dark brown with white fine stripes along the edges, besides the yellow legs this bird also has a beak the size of a ballpoint pen used in shoreline hunting
A greater yellowlegs at Vandenberg SMR. photo © C. McMahon, CC BY-NC 2.0

Inside Vandenberg SMR there are coves, rocky reefs, undersea pinnacles, and sandy seafloor areas, fed by eroding coastal bluffs and two watersheds that drain into the SMR. Located just north of the convergence of the cold California Current and the relatively warmer waters of Southern California, Vandenberg SMR is home to a variety of fishes, invertebrates, seabirds, and marine mammals typical of northern and central California. Occasionally these waters are visited by more southerly species like kelp bass and California sheephead. This is especially true during warm water events such as El Niño.

Vandenberg Space Force Base (previously Vandenberg Air Force Base) has achieved numerous restoration projects focused on increasing or improving habitat for the 18 endangered or threatened species of plants and animals found on the base. Marine species of special interest include black abalone, marbled murrelets, and southern sea otters that use the area around Vandenberg Space Force Base. The SMR also provides protection for one of the largest breeding sites in California for endangered western snowy plovers. The location, diversity of ecosystems, and limited access of Vandenberg SMR make it a unique addition to California’s MPA Network.

Cultural History

a long exposure night photograph looking north toward Vandenberg Military base, shows the current use of said base, launching satellites into orbit via rockets. The dark indigo night sky has white and blue stars, orange lights dot the horizon of structures on base, in the center frame cutting through the horizon an orange beam, a rocket, launching and cutting through the sky diagonally
Looking north during an Atlas V launch near Vandenberg SMR. photo © G. Beltz, CC BY-NC 2.0

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. The areas surrounding Vandenberg SMR and much of the Central Coast were home to the Chumash. 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. The incredibly productive marine ecosystems of the central and southern California coastline were vital to the Chumash people, who used large ocean-going canoes, or tomols, to hunt for larger ocean fish and marine mammals, and for trade amongst the widespread villages.

When Europeans began to settle on the Santa Barbara County coast in the late 18th century, much of the surrounding land was converted to cattle ranching and farmland. In 1837, a 42,000-acre Mexican land grant, known as Rancho Jesus Maria, was granted by Governor Juan B. Alvarado. Following the cession of California to the United States in 1848, Rancho Jesus Maria was filed with the Public Lands Commission in 1852 and granted to Lewis T. Burton and José Carrillo in 1871. The land was later sold to the United States government in 1941 to use as a military facility, Vandenberg Air Force Base (now known as Vandenberg Space Force Base). While closed to the public, members of the base and their guests are allowed access to the protected shorelines of the SMR.

Recreation

bright blue skies are contrasted with pastel grey white clouds that meets sweeping mountains tucking into rolling hillsides topped with small amounts of vegetation, the hills flatten and drop into steep cliffs where the ocean breaks along the dramatic cliffs
Looking south from the historic Coast Guard boathouse at Vandenberg SMR. USFWS photo

Since a majority of the SMR is adjacent to Vandenberg Space Force Base, public access points are exclusive to Ocean Beach Park, Surf Beach, and Jalama Beach County Park. Only Vandenberg pass holders and their guests have access to Minuteman Beach and Wall Beach.

Public entry into Vandenberg SMR is restricted at the discretion of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to protect wildlife or habitat, or by the Commander of Vandenberg Air Force Base (now known as Vandenberg Space Force Base) to protect and provide safety for base operation.

 

 

Coordinates

This area is bounded by the mean high tide line and straight lines connecting the following points in the order listed:

34° 44.650' N. lat. 120° 37.750' W. long.;
34° 44.650' N. lat. 120° 40.000' W. long.;
34° 33.250' N. lat. 120° 40.000' W. long.; and
34° 33.250' N. lat. 120° 37.407' W. long.

California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 632(b)(95)

Map

Map of Vandenberg State Marine Reserve - link opens in new window

Facts, Map & Regulations

MPA fact sheet