San Juan County
Every day Never Closes
The Cone Islands are a picturesque mini-archipelago only about a half mile from the northeast shore of Cypress Island. With their location near the popular Cypress landing sites at Eagle Harbor and Pelican Beach (see articles this web site) many visitors to Cypress and other San Juan Islands pass by them. Children can be excused (or should be admired) for describing them as floating mountains. Their steep sides, conical shapes, rocky outcrops and dwarfed vegetation do give them the appearance of mountain peaks; and in a world with a lower sea level, they probably would be.
The southern two of the Cone Islands have been State Park property for many years however their access and status has always been ambiguous at best. The lack of beaches and the steep rocky shorelines make landings even by small boats unpleasant and dangerous. Thus, by default if not by design, they have become tiny though important refuges for wildlife that to some degree have been displaced by human activities on other nearby islands. At less than high tide, this is one of the few locations in the area for marine mammals to pull-out for their necessary daytime drying. Careful boaters may catch a glimpse of young pups with their sleek but massive parents if they pass by quietly and at the required distance.
Beneath the waves, the steep slopes can become even steeper, forming sea walls. Studding the rock surfaces and cavities, a wealth of marine plants and animal life can be found. Boat launched SCUBA divers frequently come here to enjoy this vertical display. The desire for the protection and preservation of this beautiful and unusually intact marine environment has led to the establishment of the Cypress Island Aquatic Reserve. The Reserve provides a buffer around Cypress Island and includes a number of nearby smaller islands including these. Additionally, voluntary no-take fishing zones have been designated where fish species have been dangerously exhausted so that natural recovery may take place. These efforts were enacted in the hope of preserving a sustainable remnant of the natural marine ecosystem that existed throughout the islands prior to the large scale resource extraction and development that began in the 1800s.
The rich kelp beds anchored to the rocky undersea substrate of the islands support an abundance of forage species of fish which coupled with the island’s lack of human presence provide a vital fishing ground for different species of birds. Eagles are often seen perching in the twisted tops of trees; watching for their next meal or possibly enjoying the previous one. Floating in the currents swirling around the islands, murrelets commonly gather in groups called "rafts." Searching for smaller fish, gathering food to bring back to remote nests, the hunting can be so good that some of them may even give up the rest of their southern fall migration and over-winter here.
While the thin soils, stressed vegetation and exposed animal life of the Cone Islands could never withstand much human activity, their small size and steep slopes provide excellent wildlife viewing for passing boaters making landings unnecessary. The close proximity of well established and popular recreational locations on Cypress makes a waterside passage of the Cones a short pleasant treat rather than a primary destination.
The Cone Islands are in the Bellingham Channel, about a half mile east and slightly north of Cyperss Island's Eagle Harbor. With no beaches and only rocky shorelines, they are best viewed by boat from a safe distance.
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San Juan Islands