Why can’t you jump right off Alcatraz?

 February 15, 2015

Many swimmers head out on a boat to Alcatraz, ready to make a dramatic jump from the rock - only to find that our boats only get as close as 100 meters - or about a football field - to the Rock. We're not cheating you. There is a small fact about the iconic prison that you may not know...

Alcatraz is a protected bird sanctuary and breeding ground February through September.

That's right! Seabirds nest right on Alcatraz. As Alcatraz is partly a bird sanctuary, boats, kayaks, and the people on them are prohibited from getting within 100 meters of Alcatraz, especially from February through September which is breeding season. Water World Swim respects the environment, aiming to keep the sport of open water swimming a live collaboration between the athletes and the oceans.

All watercraft that cross that 100 meter barrier cause devastating disturbance to the life on Alcatraz, with the noise of motors and people causing animals to abandon breeding sites and disrupt the bay's ecosystem.

The NPS is asking all boaters and the like to stay 100 meters (a little more than a football field) off of Alcatraz for the breeding season, mid Feb to September. In the past three years, we documented disturbance to birds on and around Alcatraz at some of the highest levels on record.

In 2002, nearby boat traffic caused one-third of all recorded disturbances. Surprisingly, kayaks are particularly potent vectors of human disturbance because of their silence: they can sneak up to birds and startle them more easily than can a loud motorboat. A single kayak that approaches too near a seabird colony flushing adult birds from nests and leaving eggs or chicks exposed to opportunistic predators and inclement weather.

History has shown us that frequent or extreme disturbances on or around seabird colonies can cause complete abandonment of the breeding site. On Alcatraz in 2002, PRBO biologists noted a rise in the percentage of disturbances that caused birds to flush from their nests. In response, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which manages Alcatraz, is conducting educational outreach that targets groups using the peripheral waters.

PRBO also promotes rigorous enforcement as well as clear signs and buoys around Alcatraz, marking a 100-meter buffer zone to help guide and inform kayakers, canoeists, and other boaters.

National Park Service

We share the bay with many animals - and as an organization that promotes a mindful relationship between swimmer and sea, we are happy to comply with and help the NPS and Point Blue Conservation Science (formerly PRBO) maintain the ecosystem we treasure.

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