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The Farallon Islands: Background information when reading The Lightkeepers

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The Lightkeepers

by Abby Geni

The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni X
The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2016, 340 pages

    Jan 2017, 340 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Megan Shaffer
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About this Book

The Farallon Islands

This article relates to The Lightkeepers

Print Review

The Lightkeepers is set on the Farallon Islands, which are officially part of the city of San Francisco. Even though they are located just about thirty miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge, the islands are quite remote. "There is nowhere more alone than the Farallon Islands," Geni writes in The Lightkeepers, "The rest of the world might disappear — the human race wiped out by a pandemic, a meteor strike, a zombie uprising — and we would be the last to know anything about it."

Consisting of a group of rocky outcrops, the Farallon or Farallones (derived from the Spanish, farallon, meaning pillar or "sea cliff") are a remote resting and breeding site for an incredibly diverse species of wildlife. Seabirds, seals, sharks, bats and even salamanders reside in or around the islands. Check out pictures of the animals on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website.

The Farallon Islands In 1909 President Theodore Roosevelt designated the Farallon Islands a National Refuge in order to protect and preserve the remarkable variety of seabirds and marine mammals. The refuge is composed of four small islands: Southeast Farallon (SEFI), North Farallons, Middle Farallon, and Noonday Rock. SEFI is the only one to be inhabited by researchers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, among other organizations. The Navy ran a secret radar station from the Farallons in World War II.

As per the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Native Americans in the Bay area stayed away and referred to the Farallons as the Islands of the Dead. Recorded history shows that the islands were visited by the Spaniards in the sixteenth century and Sir Francis Drake, the English explorer, landed here briefly, long enough to name them the Islands of Saint James. Russian fur traders arrived in the early 1800s and exploited resources such as blubber from fur seals and pelts from sea lions. Remnants of some of the structures that the Russians built, such as Fort Ross, are still present on the island.

Due to their protected status, the remote islands serve as a point of ecological focus. Point Blue, a non-profit organization, works in cooperation with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Refuge to collect long-term data sets used to "inform management and conservation actions on the island."

Dangerously craggy and uninviting, the islands are closed to the public because of the protected wildlife and the steep, rocky shoreline. North Farallons, Middle Farallon, and Noonday Rock are virtually inaccessible even by boat. There are no docking facilities, as is made apparent in The Lightkeepers, and island resources are very limited.

The California Academy of Sciences used to maintain a webcam on the island but it fell prey to the elements. "After more than six years of 40-knot winds, unchecked Pacific storms, and pea-soup fog, our Farallones webcam has finally succumbed to the elements," their website reports, although efforts are underway to install a new high-definition camera to give a virtual tour of the islands.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which took over management of the island in 1969, and the Point Blue Conservation Science, have made significant strides in conservation and ecology management. Their efforts were aided in 1981 when the waters around the island were officially protected with the creation of the Gulf of the Farallones Marine Sanctuary.

Picture of South Farallon Islands (Southeast Farallon Island with Maintop Island in the foreground) by Jan Roletto

Filed under Places, Cultures & Identities

Article by Megan Shaffer

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Lightkeepers. It originally ran in February 2016 and has been updated for the January 2017 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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