San Clemente Island

Coordinates: 32°54′N 118°30′W / 32.900°N 118.500°W / 32.900; -118.500
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
San Clemente Island
Native name:
Kinkipar (Tongva)
Isla de San Clemente (Spanish)
LocationPacific Ocean
Coordinates32°54′N 118°30′W / 32.900°N 118.500°W / 32.900; -118.500
ArchipelagoChannel Islands (California)
State California
CountyLos Angeles
Map of Channel Islands

San Clemente Island (Tongva: Kinkipar; Spanish: Isla de San Clemente)[1] is the southernmost of the Channel Islands of California. It is owned and operated by the United States Navy,[2] and is a part of Los Angeles County. It is administered by Naval Base Coronado. It is 21 miles (34 km) long[3] and has 147.13 km2 (56.81 sq mi) of land. The 2018 census estimates 148 military and civilian personnel reside on the island.[4] The city of San Clemente in Orange County, California is named after the island.



Geologically, the island is described as being "the upper part of a tilted and gently arched northwestward-trending block of the earth's crust that has a straight, steep northeastern slope and a more irregular and much gentler southwestern slope" that is composed primarily of volcanic rock, with the northeast boundary of the island having a large fault that parallels most of the major faults on the California mainland. San Clemente Island has some of the best examples of marine terraces, and has trench-like canyons, streams, periodic waterfalls, and pools of fresh water.[5]


This region experiences warm and dry summers and moderate mild falls and winters with no average monthly temperature above 21 °C (69.5 °F). According to the Köppen Climate Classification system, San Clemente Island has a warm-summer Mediterranean climate, abbreviated "Csb" on climate maps.[6]

Climate data for San Clemente Island, CA
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Mean daily maximum °F (°C) 65
Mean daily minimum °F (°C) 49
Source: "Monthly weather". San Clemente Island, CA. 2016. Retrieved 12 September 2016.


Fauna and flora[edit]

The San Clemente Island loggerhead shrike is an endangered species that the Navy is taking steps to protect. The San Clemente Island fox is an indigenous species.[7] Feral goats roamed the island for centuries, reaching a population of 11,000 in 1972, when their effect on indigenous species was realized. By 1980 the population had been reduced to 4,000. A plan for shooting remaining goats was blocked in court by the Fund for Animals, so the goats were removed with nets and helicopters. The San Clemente Island goat is a recognized breed of domestic goat.

The coves around the island are visited by snorkelers attracted by the abundant sea life, including sea lions, spiny lobsters, hydrocoral and kelp forests. The island is also home to the endangered San Clemente Island sage sparrow.[8] After decades with no breeding by raptors, because of DDT contamination and Naval activity,[9] there is now at least one breeding pair of bald eagles[10] and more than one pair of peregrine falcons.[11]

Island flora includes 300 native taxa and approximately 135 non-native taxa with distribution of at least 47 of the island’s native taxa being restricted to two or more of the California Islands, 15 plant taxa being only found on San Clemente Island, and one insular endemic of the island thought to be extinct.[12] The flora of the island includes some plant species found nowhere else in the world. These endemic species include the wildflowers San Clemente Island brodiaea, San Clemente Island triteleia, San Clemente Island woodland star, and San Clemente Island Indian paintbrush, and the shrubs San Clemente Island bushmallow and Blair's wirelettuce. A unique subspecies of toyon, ssp. macrocarpa, also grows here,[13] as do two rare subspecies of the royal larkspur.[14]

Earthworms appear to have been introduced in 2008 in soil from the mainland used in a road construction project. In this earthworm-free region, the worms alter the soil and microbial communities which allows non-native plants to alter the island’s unique ecosystem and threaten biodiversity that exists there.[15]


Illustration by C. F. Holder of Native American bone flutes found on San Clemente Island

Archaeologists have found traces of human occupation on San Clemente Island dating back 10,000 years.

Later inhabitants left trade materials from the northern islands and from the mainland, including Coso obsidian from the California desert. It has not been established what tribe the recent inhabitants belonged to, although the Tongva, who are well attested from Santa Catalina Island, are the most likely candidates. The Chumash, who occupied the northern Channel Islands, may have influenced the inhabitants. Evidence of battles: 'the skeletons of dozens of men piled, one upon another' were also noted on San Clemente and San Nicolas.[16]

The first European to sight the island was Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo in 1542, who named it Victoria.[17] It was renamed by Spanish explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno, who spotted it on November 23, 1602, Saint Clement's feast day. It was used by ranchers, fishermen, and smugglers during the 19th century and into the 20th century.

In 1835, the whaleship Elbe of Poughkeepsie, New York, under Captain Josiah B. Whippey (or Whipple), hunted sperm whales as far north as "St. Clements Island" (San Clemente Island).[18] The American steamship Lansing, as well as the steam-schooner California, both anchored in Pyramid Cove, on the south side of San Clemente Island, to process blue, fin and humpback whales caught by their "killer boats" (steam-driven whale catchers)—the former between 1926[19] and 1930,[20] and the latter between 1933[21] and 1937.[22] In 1935, the Norwegian factory ship Esperanza caught blue whales as far north as San Clemente Island.[23]

View from space of Southern California coast, showing Santa Catalina Island (closer to mainland) and San Clemente Island (farther from mainland).

Navy base[edit]

The US Navy acquired the island in 1934. It is the Navy's only remaining ship-to-shore live firing range,[7] and is the center of the integrated air/land/sea San Clemente Island Range Complex covering 2,620 nm2 (8,990 km2).

During World War II, the island was used as a training ground for amphibious landing craft. These small to mid-sized vessels were crucial to the island hopping that was required to attack the islands occupied by the Japanese.

It is an active sonar base and has a $21 million simulated city for commando training.

There is a US Navy rocket-test facility on San Clemente. Some Polaris-program test rockets were launched from San Clemente between 1957 and 1960. The SEALAB III project took place off San Clemente in February 1969.

The US Navy uses the island as an auxiliary naval airfield, Naval Auxiliary Landing Field San Clemente Island. The main runway 24/06 is used for carrier training by the Navy. Other branches also use this airfield, including the United States Coast Guard.[7]

As of 2014, San Clemente is home to an auxiliary Air Force base responsible for locating Air Force fighter pilots near the California coast.

The island is home to United States Navy SEALs training facilities.[24]

Seven marines and one Navy sailor were presumed to have died when their amphibious assault vehicle (AAV) sank during a training exercise off the island's northwest coast on July 30, 2020.[25] One of eight marines died after being rescued from the vehicle.[26] Names of all nine people killed were identified on August 3.[27] Fifteen Marines and a sailor were on the AAV as it returned to USS Somerset.

The USMC released a statement on 3 August 2020, saying the AAV had been found. The landing craft sank in nearly 400 feet of water.[28]

On 27 August 2020, two soldiers were killed and three were injured when their Black Hawk helicopter crashed on San Clemente Island.[29]

Government and infrastructure[edit]

The island is owned and operated by the United States Navy,[2] and is a part of Los Angeles County. It is administered by Naval Base Coronado. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department (LASD) operates the Avalon Station in Avalon, Santa Catalina Island, serving San Clemente Island.[30]



  1. ^ "Villages | TONGVA PEOPLE".
  2. ^ a b "San Clemente Island".
  3. ^ "About SCI". Retrieved September 19, 2019.
  4. ^ "Block Group 599100-1, Los Angeles County, California". Retrieved 2020-09-22.
  5. ^ Olmsted, F. H. "Contributions to General Geology – Geologic Reconnaissance of San Clemente Island California (Geological Survey Bulletin 1071-B)" (PDF). U.S. Dept. of the Interior (U.S. Geological Survey) published by U.S. Government Printing Office. Retrieved 13 July 2019.
  6. ^ "San Clemente Island, California — Köppen Climate Classification (Weatherbase)". Weatherbase. Retrieved 4 August 2021.
  7. ^ a b c Dyer, Andrew (2019-12-30). "Mousetraps handed out to sailors at San Clemente Island hotel like 'in-room amenity,' emails say". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2019-12-30.
  8. ^ "San Clemente Island Sage Sparrow" (PDF).
  9. ^ "San Clemente Island Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan" (PDF). Tierra Data Systems, Escondido, CA. Retrieved 20 October 2019.
  10. ^ "Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)". Institute for Wildlife Studies. Retrieved 20 October 2019.
  11. ^ "Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus anatum)". Institute for Wildlife Studies. Retrieved 20 October 2019.
  12. ^ "Conservation & Research – Channel Islands – San Clemente Island". Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. Retrieved 13 July 2019.
  13. ^ C. Michael Hogan, (2008) Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia), GlobalTwitcher, ed. N. Stromberg "Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia ) - -". Archived from the original on 2009-07-19. Retrieved 2009-07-19.
  14. ^ "Center for Plant Conservation: Delphinium variegatum ssp. thornei".
  15. ^ Sahagun, Louis (October 7, 2016). "The lowly earthworm poses a dire threat to this California island". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 11 October 2016.
  16. ^ Holder, Fredrick (1910). The Channel islands of California: a book for the angler, sportsman, and tourist. Stationers' Hall London England: A.C McClurg & Co. p. 283.
  17. ^ Kelsey, Harry (1986). Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. San Marino: The Huntington Library.
  18. ^ Webb, Robert (1988). On the Northwest: Commercial Whaling in the Pacific Northwest 1790–1967. University of British Columbia Press. ISBN 0-7748-0292-8.
  19. ^ Pacific Fisherman (Vol. 24, 1926); Science, Vol. 64 (July 2, 1926 issue); Animal Bulletin: New York Zoological Society, Vols. 29–30, 1926; The Federal Reporter, 1988; American Maritime Cases, (Vol. 2, 1931).
  20. ^ Townsend, Charles Haskens. 1930. "Twentieth Century Whaling". Bull. New York Zool. Soc., Vol. 33, No. 1; California Fish and Game, Fisheries (1930); Pacific Fisherman (Vols. 28–29, 1930–31).
  21. ^ Pacific Fisherman (Vol. 31, 1933).
  22. ^ Nial O'Malley Keyes, Blubber Ship (1939); Andrew R. Boone, Killer Ships of the Whaling Fleet (Popular Science, August 1935); Pacific Fisherman (Vol. 35, 1937).
  23. ^ Rice, Dale W. The Blue Whales of the Southeastern North Pacific Ocean (AFSC Quarterly Report, 1992).
  24. ^ Dyer, Andrew (December 30, 2019). "Mousetraps handed out to sailors at San Clemente Island hotel like 'in-room amenity,' emails say". Los Angeles Times.
  25. ^ Martinez, Luis (August 2, 2020). "Search and rescue effort concludes for missing Marines, all 8 presumed deceased". ABC News.
  26. ^ "Marines halt search for eight missing troops, all presumed dead". Associated Press. August 2, 2020.
  27. ^ "U.S. Marines ID all 9 people killed in sea-tank sinking". Associated Press. August 3, 2020.
  28. ^ Tuthill, Brian (August 4, 2020). "Location of sunken AAV, remains found off San Clemente Island" (Press release). United States Marine Corps. Retrieved 2020-08-30.
  29. ^ Dyer, Andrew (2020-08-29). "Soldiers killed in Black Hawk crash on San Clemente Island identified". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2020-08-30.
  30. ^ "Avalon Station". Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Archived from the original on February 17, 2010. Retrieved January 21, 2010. Avalon Sheriff's Station provides law enforcement for Santa Catalina Island, San Clemente Island, and the ocean waters between the islands and mainland of Southern California.

External links[edit]