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Año Nuevo Island is about 9 acres (3.6 ha) and separated by a narrow channel from Año Nuevo Point, California. The island rock is mostly light-gray to whitish mudstone slowly being eroded by the surf.
When the Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino sailed past here in 1603 the island was still part of the mainland. It is an important breeding site for northern elephant seals, and a haul-out for thousands of California sea lions, as well as the southern-most range of the Steller sea lion. A series of tragic shipwrecks including the Carrier Pigeon lost in 1853, followed by the Sir John Franklin in 1865, and the Coya in 1866, prompted the construction of a fog signal station on the island in 1872.
On average the fog signal was in operation roughly 700 hours a year and consumed about forty tons of coal. To collect water for the steam whistle, the facility included a water catchment basin and cistern. In 1890, a light was mounted on a post on the seaward side of the fog signal to improve the station’s effectiveness. A nine-room two-story structure was completed in 1905 to house the keepers and their families, and in 1907 a 15,000-gallon redwood water tank was built. In 1911, a lantern room was added on top of the water tank to house a new Fresnel lens, and in 1914 the light was transferred to a taller steel skeleton tower.
The station was deactivated in 1948 and replaced by a whistle buoy south of the island. In 1976, the steel light tower was cut down, and the toppled structure still remains on the island. The historic fog signal buildings are now used as a laboratory and dormitory for the Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of California Santa Cruz. Read more here and here. Click here to to explore more of Año Nuevo Island and the adjacent mainland.