Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary
Backstory and Context
The 3,295 square mile Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary (GFNMS) protects the marine wildlife, ecosystem, and biodiversity of San Francisco's coastal waters, including threatened and endangered species. The sanctuary encompasses portions of San Francisco Bay, the Pacific, tidal flats, intertidal and wetland areas, subtidal reefs, and beaches, and lies within the California Current ecosystem, one of the world's most biologically productive areas. These nationally significant waters were designated a National Marine Sanctuary in 1981 under President Jimmy Carter.
The GFNMS waters are a feeding and breeding ground for "at least twenty-five endangered or threatened species; thirty-six marine mammal species, including blue, gray, and humpback whales, harbor seals, elephant seals, Pacific white-sided dolphins, and one of the southernmost U.S. populations of threatened Steller sea lions; over a quarter-million breeding seabirds; and one of the most significant white shark populations on the planet," . In addition, the sanctuary partnered with the National Park Service in 2008 to rehabilitate and occupy three historically significant structures: the Pier & Tide Gauge Station, the 1890 Officer in Charge Quarters (now the Ocean Climate Center), and the 1915 U.S. Coast Guard Fort Point Life-Saving Station.
The Life-Saving Station at Fort Point dates to February of 1890 when the first boathouse and Officer in Charge Quarters were erected on Strawberry Beach. When San Francisco hosted the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915, these buildings were moved 700 feet westward (to their present location) in order to make room for the fairgrounds. In the same year, the Life-Saving Service and Revenue-Cutter Service combined into a single institution: The United States Coast Guard. The station was expanded, with additions including dormitories, a new boathouse with an attached marine railway for the launching of motorized lifeboats, shops and garages, and other outbuildings. The Officer in Charge Quarters were re-oriented and returned to a single-family dwelling (having served as a temporary dormitory), and the old boathouse became a garage.
The Tide Gauge house was built sometime in the 1930s, though there is no exact date associated with its construction. Maintained now by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Tide Gauge house continues to record tidal data and maintains the oldest continuous record of tidal observations in the United States, beginning with data from June 30, 1854. After the Coast Guard at Fort Point relocated to East Fort Baker, the United States Army transferred the Presidio (along with the Fort Point Coast Guard Station) to the National Park Service. The NOAA utilizes several of the buildings for office and educational space, including the facilities of the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.
The Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary
The GFNMS was established in 1981; only three years later, an oil spill of 1.4 million gallons from the Puerto Rican flooded the sanctuary, and the Apex Houston spilled another 20,000 gallons the following year. After the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, road crews illegally dumped debris from Highway 1 into the waters, only that year declared by the United Nations as an internationally important ecosystem. In spite of these inauspicious beginnings, in its first decade, the sanctuary started what has become the most extensive study of endangered humpback and blue whales, and also stopped a proposal to discharge wastewater into the protected waters.
The sanctuary offices moved to their present location in the original Life-Saving Station Boathouse in the Presidio in 1992. During the 1990s, sanctuary staff assisted in management of the newly-created Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, established the first and Congressionally recognized volunteer program for the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (Beach Watch), removed toxic and landfill waste from Bolinas Lagoon, and established programs to re-establish the murre seabird colony at Devil's Slide Rock (destroyed during the Apex Houston oil spill) and to document human impact on harbor seals in the region. The sanctuary also opened its first visitor center at Crissy Field and began an educational Responsible Wildlife Viewing program on how to view wildlife without disturbing them. The National Marine Sanctuary System and National Geographic Society, using the sanctuary as their base, initiated the Sustainable Seas Expedition (SSE) for education and research/testing.Since the turn of the 21st century, school outreach and programs have been added at the Visitor Center. The sanctuary rehabilitated the Pier & Tide Gauge Station in June 2004, celebrating the 150th year of tidal observations in San Francisco Bay. The station measures tides, wind, air and water temperatures, and air pressure, and serves as a classroom and program center as well. Studies in 2005 showed a 160% decrease in oil pollution from 1997-1998, and the Seabird Protection Network began preventing human disturbance to nesting colonies. Thanks to oil spill "drills," the sanctuary was able to respond quickly and effectively when the Cosco Busan spilled 53,000 gallons into the Bay in 2007; the sanctuary staff received an NOAA General Council Award as a result.
The Ocean Climate Center (housed in the former Life-Saving Station's Officer in Charge Quarters) for the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary was opened on October 26, 2010, as a project center focused on climate change solutions. The center is also home to interactive exhibits focusing on climate change's effects on habitats and ecosystems, as well as solutions and individual choices which can help mitigate negative impacts to the environment. The free-admission Visitor Center exhibits focus on wildlife education; every month, a hands-on Second Saturday Family Program is offered.
Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary
Within the ocean swells, beyond the Golden Gate, is an underwater world of astoundingly rich and diverse marine life. Few regions on earth host the multitude of marine species found in the sanctuary’s open waters and estuaries, within its sea floor, and along its rocky shores and sandy beaches. The 1,255 square mile Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary protects the region’s extraordinary resources. Past human impacts such as seal and whale hunting, egg harvesting, oil spills, and gill netting nearly exterminated Common Murres, Tufted Puffins, whales, fur seals, and elephant seals. Today the sanctuary works diligently to balance the needs of the San Francisco Bay Area’s nearly 8 million people with those of its wildlife resources.
[Marker Photo Captions:] One of the most significant populations of white sharks in the world is around the Farallon Islands. / The Sanctuary is a destination feeding ground for endangered blue and humpback whales. / The Gulf supports the largest concentration of breeding seabirds within the contiguous United States.
Braving Wind and Waves: Fort Point Life-Saving Station
Activated in 1890, this U.S. Life-Saving Station was built to aid endangered seafarers in the days when San Francisco was one of the world’s busiest ports. “Surfmen” braved wind and waves to rescue victims from distressed sailing ships and steamships off the central California coast and in the bay’s treacherous waters. Nearly a dozen shipwrecks still lie buried along the Presidio shore. / Finding a Safer Haven / In 1990, the U.S. Coast Guard (the successor of the U.S. Life Saving Service) moved the operations across the Golden Gate to the calmer Horseshoe Bay at Fort Baker, where its tradition of lifesaving continues. Nonprofit organizations now use the former boathouse (to your right) and the former commandant’s quarters (to your left). / The steamship S.S. Ohioan ran aground near the Cliff House in 1936. Note the rescue gear at far left, rigged to bring the crew and cargo ashore. / Erected by National Park Service.
Visit. Farallones. Accessed April 12, 2017. http://farallones.noaa.gov/visit/.
Theberge, Albert. 150 YEARS OF TIDES ON THE WESTERN COAST: THE LONGEST SERIES OF TIDAL OBSERVATIONS IN THE AMERICAS. Tides and Currents. Accessed April 12, 2017. https://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/publications/150_years_of_tides.pdf.
Braving Wind and Waves Fort Point Life-Saving Station. HMDB. Accessed April 12, 2017. http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?MarkerID=63414.