Big Flat

Big Flat SMCA - photo copyright Bill Lemos

Big Flat SMCA – photo copyright Bill Lemos

Big Flat State Marine Conservation Area, similar to South Cape Mendocino State Marine Reserve, exists in a stretch of coastline in Northern California deemed the “Lost Coast” because of its undeveloped natural beauty and the very small population of people that live in the area. Big Flat SMCA is a 12-mile marine protected area north of Shelter Cove, CA.

Interesting Facts:

  • One reason Big Flat SMCA was selected as an MPA is because it was identified as a significant rockfish habitat.
  • The Spanish Canyon runs partially through Big Flat SMCA. This submarine canyon offers deeper waters that support foraging habitats for fish, birds, mammals, and invertebrates.
  • The closest town, Shelter Cove, is a small fishing town with a population of about 700 (big for the area!).
  • Big Flat SMCA is located within the territory of Sinkyone people known as the To-cho-be-keah. Today, tribal peoples continue to practice their traditions at Big Flat, and are leading important regional efforts in forest, coastal and marine stewardship.
  • Cape Mendocino Lighthouse, a lighthouse that was built before the 1900s at Cape Mendocino, was moved by helicopter to Point Delgada, nearby this MPA, in 1998. This move preserved the structure, which was slowly rusting and sliding down the steep cliff it was placed on.

Recreation Opportunities:

  • Because of the submarine canyon, the area surrounding Big Flat SMCA is an ideal place to catch a glimpse of whales on their migratory route. Look out for whale spouts!
  • Visit Shelter Cove, an ideal tourist spot for those seeking a quiet retreat. The area is gaining popularity because it remains secluded and yet has a small airport, golf course, camping all of which the Shelter Cove Airport Association claims to have “better ocean views than Pebble Beach.”
  • Choose between the rocky shoreline or sandy beach. Little Black Sand Beach nearby is one of the handful of black sand beaches that are a signature of the Lost Coast.
  • Explore the King Range National Conservation Area just east of Big Flat. The mountain range offer hiking trails, camping opportunities, and views of the ocean surrounding the MPA.