Alcatraz – The Island and its Environment


The environmental aspects of Alcatraz Island can be divided into three categories: birds, rock formations, and plant life. Each of these categories has a unique value and varying stakeholders.

The Birds

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

In 2007 there were 1078 pairs of birds on the island, including western gulls, pelagic cormorants, pigeon guillemots, a pair of black oystercatchers, snowy egrets and black crowned night herons. These birds have migrated to Alcatraz because of a decrease of crayfish on the Farallon Islands, and to escape the pollution of the SF Bay Area.  The bird population of Alcatraz has an intrinsic value.

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

One of the issues with the birds is that they can be disturbed by tourists on the island and kayakers, causing them to abandon their nests along with their chicks.  Their presence on Alcatraz thus limits the use and development of Alcatraz as a tourist attraction. Some sites are closed off to prevent disturbance to the nests. To meet these challenges the Golden Gate Park Conservancy has been working on and implementing strategy outlines in The Bird Conservation and Management Strategy for Historic Alcatraz Island. They are working with organizations such as PRBO Conservation Science and the US Geological Survey, who help monitor the birds.

The Geological Formation – the “Rock”

As with the bird population, the “Rock” itself has intrinsic value.  Alcatraz has socio-cultural values, which include historical, cultural/symbolic and aesthetic values. The people who lived on the island, such as the Native Americans, army officers, prison inmates and prison wardens, had a connection with the island itself, and experienced its isolation.

Some of the most pressing problems with the “Rock” are the natural erosion of formations, damage caused by construction, and demolition of the debris remaining from conservation projects. The park staff are repairing water and electric systems, removing dangerous materials, stabilizing buildings and bringing them up to modern safety standards. Also, the park managers made the decision to sell the debris from reconstruction as souvenirs in the gift shop. This allows the debris to be cleaned up, and opens up another revenue stream for the park.

The Gardens


Officer Row Gardens

Another aspect of the environment is the plant life of Alcatraz. Besides having an intrinsic value, the plant life of Alcatraz also has socio-cultural values, such as historical, cultural/symbolic and aesthetic values. The gardens were cultivated by the various inhabitants of the island during each era. First, the gardens were planted and tended by the soldiers, then by prison inmates and officers’ families.

The biggest challenge for the gardens is the maintenance of the plants. Lutsko Associates, the Olmsted Center, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, and the Garden Conservancy have combined their efforts to create a survey of the surviving plants and a plan for landscape maintenance and stabilization. These organizations created the Alcatraz Garden Project, which attracts volunteers to help maintain the gardens. In 2009, 613 volunteers put in 7,000 hours of service. During 2005-2007 plans for Main Road and Officer Row Gardens were implemented. The volunteers have also devised a rainwater irrigation system.

By Tatyana Kovaleva

All picture metadata can be found at our Flickr account; To access it, please click one photo from the right side-bar.


About ninapdia

Finished her BA in Anthropology at University of California, Berkeley.

Posted on May 13, 2011, in Alcatraz-San-Francisco, Anthro136k-spring2011-UC-Berkeley, Anthro136kSp11, Microhistories and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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