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Santa Catalina Island and Its Developmental Issues Research Paper

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Updated: Jan 7th, 2021

Population growth combined with the limited resources of the mainland United States may force authorities to seek new spaces to accommodate residents. Almost all the territory of Santa Catalina Island (almost 90%) has been identified as a conservation area (Knapp, 2014). The rest of the island has been used for residential, commercial, and recreational areas. The population of Santa Catalina Island is approximately four thousand people, and all residents are involved in the hospitality, real estate, or construction industries (City-Data, 2018). However, the island can accommodate more people. When considering the related policies, it is important to take into account various environmental and economic issues as the area is at a distance from the mainland and has a significant environmental and historical value. This paper includes a brief analysis of the possible expansion of the communities situated on Santa Catalina Island.

Possible Areas for Accommodation of Newcomers

Areas that have been inhabited for decades include Avalon and Two Harbors. The latter is a small community with approximately only 300 people (Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau, 2018). Avalon has a population of almost 4,000 people who reside there year-round (City-Data, 2018). These areas are the most favorable spaces for residential habitation, which means they can be further developed in order to accommodate new inhabitants. Two Harbors can be expanded to host up to 5,000 residents, and Avalon can become home to 20,000 people. The residential and commercial areas will be closer to the coast. The lands of the existing botanical garden should remain part of the conservation area, and the expansion should not exceed 25,000 people as available resources are limited. It is necessary to give attention to other important aspects.

Water Shortage

One of the primary concerns of the authorities and the people living on the island is a shortage of water. For example, the residents of Avalon must live according to Stage 2 rationing guidelines, implying restrictions that apply to washing streets, driveways, and parking lots (Sahagun, 2015). The residents have expressed mixed feelings regarding additional development in their community. On the one hand, they hail the authorities’ plans to construct new tourist attractions as an important and desired step. As mentioned, most of the island’s inhabitants depend on the tourist industry, and the more visitors come, the more money residents can earn. On the other hand, the construction of new facilities (especially resorts) also means an increase in water usage, which is not as welcome. The residents argue that the water-related taxes they pay are higher than those paid by mainland residents.

Approximately 20% of island residents’ drinking water is groundwater connected to the Thompson Reservoir. The rest of the water for consumption is produced by a desalination plant. However, the level of the water in the reservoir drops significantly in the summertime, when the island hosts approximately eight thousand visitors (Sahagun, 2015). Full-time residents fear that the level will fall further, leading to Stage 3 restrictions. This scenario could mean the use of plastic dishes in restaurants and no laundry service in hotels. Year-round residents will have to cut down on their water consumption.

One potential solution would be to develop another desalination plant that could help satisfy the needs of an increased population. Drilling for water is regarded as another possible way to address the issue (Sahagun, 2015). However, it is also important to choose the most environmentally efficient type of facility, ensuring that the environmental footprint will be minimal since the island and the waters around it host thousands of unique species. In addition, some water can be brought from the mainland during the summer season.

Supply Difficulties

Supplies are another area of concern as the island is situated at some distance (over 20 miles) from the mainland. All products and materials must be transported to the area, which tends to translate to higher prices for the residents of Santa Catalina Island. For instance, the cost-of-living index was over 144 in 2016, in comparison to the US average of 100 (City-Data, 2018). The median value of a house is almost double (almost $787,000) that in the state of California ($477,500), which may also be partially attributable to high construction costs. Construction companies often must bring water from the mainland for their purposes (Sahagun, 2015). Sahagun (2015) reports that the local people are expressing concern about the opening of the first supermarket in the area as it is associated with higher taxes, higher prices, and a larger environmental impact.

The island has an airport, and people can come to the island on aircraft or helicopters. Clearly, the price for such trips is not affordable for most people, making the sea route the most popular. Because of the distance between the island and the mainland, the construction of a bridge or tunnel would require a substantial investment. Such expenses would be inappropriate for the accommodation of only 25,000 people. It has been estimated that a project involving the construction of an underwater tube would cost approximately $15 billion (Kane, 2018). In no way would this be a cost-effective project for Santa Catalina Island as the profits would be much lower even with the development of a more sophisticated infrastructure. Therefore, the recommendation concerning logistics would be to develop more comprehensive sea routes to ensure the delivery of more goods and make cheaper and faster trips available for people.


Employment can be regarded as both a barrier to an increasing population on the island and an opportunity for its expansion. First, it is necessary to consider the most significant challenges. As mentioned, a major local industry is tourism, which means that the vast majority of jobs in the area are seasonal in nature. For example, the most common jobs in 2016 were related to serving and food preparation (17%); maintenance, installation, and repair (16%); management (10%); sales (10%); and transportation occupations (7%) (City-Data, 2018). Sahagun (2015) stresses that island workers try to earn as much as possible during the high season as they understand that their income will decrease when the summer seasonal rush is over. Thus, one recommendation is to make the island’s economy less dependent on seasonal factors. Santa Catalina Island is a unique place due to its biodiversity and historical value. It could well be possible to focus on this sphere when developing opportunities for travelers.

In terms of opportunities associated with employment, it is possible to seek options related to the information technologies sphere. The modern world is characterized by the rising popularity of outsourcing. Many employees work from home, which is beneficial for all the stakeholders involved. The island can become home to people who choose to use technology rather than commute to their offices every day. People can be attracted by the marvelous natural resources and picturesque views as well as the ability to have a summer-long vacation. The island’s authorities can launch a wide promotional campaign aimed at attracting IT specialists as these employees often work from home. This could also help in addressing the issues related to seasonal employment. Some people may consider living in a small community (compared to a large city such as Los Angeles, with its millions of residents) a privilege.

Tourist Destination

One reason for the development of a comparably small community on the island is its value to the tourist industry. A primary reason that people come to Santa Catalina Island is its nature offerings. Visitors engage in numerous leisure activities; for example, they spend time on the beach, go on walking tours, sail, scuba dive, and play golf (Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau, 2018). All these activities require extensive expanses of recreational land. It is also critical to make sure that residential districts are at enough distance to create the feeling of being in the wilderness for the tourists who go on walking tours. However, it is necessary to undertake necessary steps to make these areas easily accessible through the development of effective infrastructure. Another recommendation is to improve or extend the facilities for the sport of golf on the island, allowing this destination to become a venue for holding competitions or even championships. The existing golf course can be expanded and modernized to make it appropriate for and attract high-ranking tournaments.

Untouched natural beauty also attracts many people. Therefore, it is essential to manage the various processes associated with an increasing population; indeed, planning and construction should be balanced and well-thought-out. It is crucial to safeguard such spaces as the Wrigley Botanical Garden, which should remain untouched. Effective zoning can be instrumental in addressing this issue. Authorities claim that they will focus on developing tourism, presupposing the construction of more facilities for accommodation (Young, 2017). However, this plan should be implemented with a significant degree of caution and with extensive supervision. Officials should make sure that any development in the community will be sustainable. Knapp (2014) states that the island’s wildlife has been affected by invasive species that have a substantial impact on the environment. It is also necessary to ensure the proper management of scarce resources (especially water).

Environmental and Scientific Value

Another important aspect to take into account is the environmental and scientific value of the island. As mentioned, over 80% of the territory of Santa Catalina Island is a conservation area, which has led to preserving and protecting unique natural habitat. The island can be regarded as a platform for scientific research as the areas can unveil many secrets to scientists in such spheres as marine diversity, wildlife, and the development of the planet and humanity (Higgins & Mehta, 2018). Therefore, it is important to ensure environmental sustainability. Petersen, Aslan, Stuart, and Beier (2018) have developed a framework that can be used in expanding the community on Santa Catalina Island. Petersen et al. (2018) emphasize that people should incorporate social and ecological adaptive capacity when managing conservation of biodiversity. This approach can be effective for the sustainable development of Santa Catalina Island, as well.

As mentioned, effective zoning should be employed to ensure a balance between biodiversity and residential (as well as recreational) development. However, it is also necessary to make sure that the routes established by various species are undisturbed. The development of the infrastructure (roads, zones, and so on) must be implemented in close collaboration with scientists. For instance, it is essential to construct residential zones and roads so that the migration routes of species remain untouched. Maritime activity should be sustainable as the island is famous for its unique underwater biodiversity (Furman, 2017). Furman (2017) further emphasizes that wastewater management is the key to sustaining this biodiversity.


The expansion of residential and recreational space on Santa Catalina Island is a viable option that the island’s authorities may choose to pursue. However, it is important to take into account various aspects. Based on the information provided here, it is possible to formulate several recommendations.

  1. The population of the island should not exceed 25,000 in order to maintain its unique biodiversity and value in terms of tourism.
  2. Effective zoning strategies should be employed to safeguard the mobility of species, provision of high-quality hospitality services, and residents’ comfort in residential areas.
  3. Every activity should be supervised by the island’s authorities with a focus on the planning and construction stages.
  4. The construction of a powerful desalination plant is necessary to provide a sufficient amount of drinking water.
  5. Drilling for water is another step to undertake to ensure access to drinking water.
  6. Some water can be brought from the mainland. This option can be implemented during times of drought.
  7. It is necessary to develop additional sea routes to deliver more goods in the face of an increasing island population.
  8. In order to provide more employment opportunities for the residents of Santa Catalina Island, it is possible to promote the scientific value of the area. More opportunities for tourists should be developed (such as golf competitions, museum tours, more walking tours).
  9. The reconstruction of the golf course may be needed to host sports competitions.
  10. The launch of a wide promotional campaign will raise people’s awareness of the island’s residential opportunities and encourage them to move to the island. The campaign should concentrate on the unique natural resources, the chance to live in a place that is a famous tourist destination, and employment opportunities in the IT sphere. The use of the internet with a focus on social media will be instrumental in achieving the goals of the campaign. More traditional instruments such as television and print press should also be employed.


In conclusion, Santa Catalina Island has been home to comparatively small communities. The area is highly valued for a unique biodiversity that has been studied by scientists from all over the world. Many tourists come to the island to enjoy its natural beauty. However, the island can host more people, which can offer a solution to issues associated with population growth. The existing communities can be expanded, but it is vital to ensure sustainable development of the terrain. The island’s authorities should implement close supervision of each step. The initial stages should involve research and strategic planning. Technology can help address such issues as limited employment options, as well as supply and resource management difficulties. The changes that are on the way should also be promoted to make people aware of the new opportunities.


Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau. (2018). Web.

City-Data. (2018). Web.

Furman, D. (2017). The indirect hand of man. Penn Sustainability Review, 1(9), 40-46.

Higgins, B., & Mehta, R. (2018). Distribution and habitat associations of the California moray (Gymnothorax mordax) within Two Harbors, Santa Catalina Island, California. Environmental Biology of Fishes, 101(1), 95-108.

Kane, P. L. (2018). SF Weekly. Web.

Knapp, D. (2014). Ecosystem restoration on Santa Catalina Island: A review of potential approaches and the promise of bottom-up invader management. Monographs of the Western North American Naturalist, 7(1), 421-434.

Petersen, B., Aslan, C., Stuart, D., & Beier, P. (2018). Incorporating social and ecological adaptive capacity into vulnerability assessments and management decisions for biodiversity conservation. Bioscience, XX, 1-10.

Sahagun, L. (2015). Los Angeles Times. Web.

Young, D. (2017). The Catalina Islander. Web.

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