Many millions of years ago, the formation of the island began with volcanic activity on the ocean floor. Subsequent geologic uplifting and subsidence, tectonic plate movement, sedimentation and metamorphic activity along with weathering, erosion and climatic change all worked together and played off each to create the topography of Santa Catalina Island as we know it today. The rugged mountains, shallow soils and arid climate that influence today's plant and animal life are only a small part of the island's natural history.
This offshore land-mass was originally devoid of terrestrial life. Miles of open ocean presented a salty, wet barrier to potential colonizers living on the mainland. They arrived on the island by chance; blown on the wind, bobbing and drifting on the waves, or carried by wing. Those plants and animals met the first challenge of just getting to Santa Catalina Island, but they and their offspring had equal challenges in surviving and reproducing on the new land.See a list of the Island’s endemic species (those found only on Catalina) by clicking here.

Today, the island ecosystem includes a unique variety of native trees, shrubs, wildflowers, grasses, ferns, mammals, insects, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fungi, lichens, and other forms of life. Some are found only on Santa Catalina Island, while others are widespread. They all participate in a complex web of biological and physical interactions and processes.

Maintaining the health of these species by preserving and restoring the habitats they need to survive and by allowing ecological processes to function without major human intervention is a primary component of the Conservancy's mission. The Island Ecology section summarizes what we know about island species and ecological processes, how they are related, what their threats are, and how we can best manage for their long-term survival.

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