Point Lobos, Carmel Bay

Point Lobos, Carmel Bay

by | Feb 4, 2022

Point Lobos is a rocky headland at the south end of Carmel Bay between Cypress Cove to the north and Headland Cove to the south on the central coast of California, about 19 miles (31 km) north-northwest of Big Sur and 2.5 miles (4 km) southwest of Carmel, California. The point was named during the period of Spanish occupation for the barking of sea lions that inspired the name Punta de Los Lobos Marinos or Point of the Sea Wolves. Carmel Bay is about 2.6 miles (4.2 km) wide between Pescadero Point and Point Lobos and is bisected by Carmel Canyon. Point Lobos is an erosion-resistant rock formation that consists of four components that have assembled over the last 80 million years. The oldest basement rocks are called the Santa Lucia Granodiorite that formed about 79.5 million years ago. The granodiorite is made of quartz, orthoclase, plagioclase, amphibole, and biotite mica that crystallized from magma that slowly cooled at depths of 6-12 miles (10-20 km) below the earth’s surface. The granodiorite was then slowly uplifted to the surface over about 30 million years and then was eroded. Around 55 million years ago, a submarine canyon was eroded through the granodiorite basement rock and alluvial sediments were deposited as submarine landslides and turbidity currents. These were subsequently lithified into a coarse-grained conglomerate, sandstone, and mudstone that now comprise the Carmelo Formation, the second major rock type at Point Lobos. About 18,000 years ago, the level of the Pacific Ocean was considerably lower than today because much of the global water was trapped in polar ice-caps and continental glaciers. Ocean waves eroded platforms at a sea-level about 250 feet (75 m) below the present-day level, and these marine terraces were subsequently uplifted due to transpressional shear between the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate, a process that continues today at Point Lobos. The fourth and youngest type of rocks are the sands and gravels found today along the coast and especially on the beaches. These sediments were eroded from the bedrock by waves, rivers, and atmospheric weathering starting about 10,000 years ago.

Point Lobos has a rich history of human occupation. For several thousand years before the first European explorers arrived, the coast of central California was inhabited by bands of indigenous people known collectively as the Ohlone. Each band consisted of about 200 people and had one or more permanent villages typically consisting of dome-shaped thatched huts. The area provided an abundant supply of acorns, birds, and mammals from the nearby mountains, as well as fish from the ocean and local streams. The Ohlone had a seasonal village near the mouth of San Jose Creek about 1.4 miles (2.3 km) east of Point Lobos known as Ichxenta where they harvested fish and shellfish including abalone from the waters around Point Lobos. Based on shell middens, this village was first occupied about 2,500 to 3,000 years ago and is thought to be the longest inhabited Ohlone village site in the Monterey Bay area. In 1602, Spanish explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno entered Carmel Bay and some of his soldiers likely camped near the mouth of the Carmel River. In 1769, the Portolá expedition traveled overland from San Diego and camped along San Jose Creek. Portolá’s assignment was to find a route through Alta California from Mexico to Monterey and locate suitable places to establish military camps called presidios and Franciscan missions. In 1770, Monterey was selected as one of 21 sites for a presidio and mission, but within a year the mission was moved to Carmel and named San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo. The mission’s cowboys, or vaqueros, tended herds of cattle on the nearby grasslands and became the first non-native people to use Point Lobos. In 1822, Mexico won independence from Spain and the new government began a policy of awarding land grants to loyal Mexican citizens, one of whom was Don Marcelino Escobar, a distinguished official in Monterey. In 1839, Escobar was given Rancho San Jose y Sur Chiquito, a land grant of 8,818 acres (3,569 ha) including Point Lobos and a few years later sold the land. The property was reputedly gifted and claimed by Jose Castro, an officer at the Monterey Presidio. In 1848, California was ceded to the United States and a commission was established to address the multiple claims to private property in the new territory. In 1888, the land claims were finally settled and the original Mexican land grant was divided into 34 private parcels. Several owners of the parcels in and around Point Lobos sold their interests to the Carmelo Land and Coal Company. In 1897, Alexander M. Allan was hired to improve the coal mining operation, but when the coal mine proved unprofitable, he purchased 640 acres (260 ha) of Point Lobos from the Carmelo Land and Coal Company. In 1933, three years after Allan’s death, the family sold 348 acres (141 ha) to the State of California to establish the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.

The first marine reserve in the United States was designated here in 1960 with 750 underwater acres (300 ha). The marine reserve was designated an ecological reserve in 1973, and in 1992, was added to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the largest in the nation. In 2007, the ecological reserve was expanded and renamed the Point Lobos State Marine Reserve and Point Lobos State Marine Conservation Area. These are 2 of 29 marine protected areas adopted during the first phase of an initiative that developed a collaborative public process to create a statewide network of marine protected areas in California that are monitored by scientists to better understand healthy ocean ecosystems. Today, the marine protected areas at Point Lobos conserve a wide range of plants and animals from the shallow water nearshore reefs to the deep waters of Carmel Canyon. State and national parks protect terrestrial wildlife and habitats, and similarly, marine protected areas conserve and restore wildlife and habitats in the ocean. There is a global body of scientific evidence about the effectiveness of marine protected areas and reserves to restore marine ecosystems. Under the California Marine Life Protection Act that passed in 1999, California began a historic effort to establish a science-based, statewide network of marine reserves with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and California State Parks. California is taking a regional approach to the design and implementation of marine reserves and has divided the state into five regions that include the north coast, south coast, north-central coast, central coast, and San Francisco Bay. Marine reserves are known to contribute to healthier, more resilient ocean ecosystems that can better withstand a wide range of impacts such as pollution and climate change. By protecting entire ecosystems rather than focusing on a single species, marine reserves are powerful tools for conserving and restoring ocean biodiversity and protecting cultural resources, while allowing certain activities such as marine recreation and research to continue. Read more here and here. Explore more of Point Lobos and Carmel Bay here:

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About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2021 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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