Did you know that 70 percent of the people that use Sands Beach are students? And did you know that the biological resources on this beach are in jeopardy? On Sunday, Feb. 4, the warm weather drew hundreds of people to the Coal Oil Point Reserve to enjoy the beach. More than 100 snowy plovers (a threatened but federally protected species) were feeding in the morning, but none were left in the area by noon due to the presence of unleashed dogs and unknowing UCSB and City College students simply having a “good time.” Unaware of posted signs, people trampled through the plover roost, released their dogs, set fireworks and left a big mess. The result is a nature reserve with trampled and disturbed ecosystems, displaced endangered species and jeopardized resources.

Coal Oil Point Reserve (COPR) represents a special place for our educational mission. Sands Beach is protected as one of the UC’s 34 natural reserve areas. These reserves are representative of California’s rich biodiversity and were created to provide undisturbed teaching and research opportunities for us.

COPR encompasses the lands around Devereux Slough and Sands Beach. It is home to some of the last sand dunes on the South Coast – a series of rare dune ponds, swales, grasslands and coastal scrub. These, in turn, host a range of rare and endangered species like the snowy plover, the Ventura milk vetch, the wandering skipper, the globose dune beetle, the least tern and the white-tailed kite, to name a few. Because of its proximity to campus, Coal Oil Point Reserve has unique opportunities to educate students and the community about our fragile coastal environment. Protection of these natural resources requires your help and understanding of our academic mission.

At present, Coal Oil Point Reserve pays a steep price for allowing open access to the public. A faculty advisory committee is developing a management plan that strengthens the protection and restoration of the reserve, increases the scope of research and teaching in this outdoor classroom and laboratory and also offers greater educational experiences to K-12 school children and all interested community organizations throughout the year. With your cooperation, this can be achieved with appropriate public access to the beach and trails.

Our campus has a long tradition of environmental awareness; we have a well-recognized environmental studies program and the Bren School. The Daily Nexus addresses environmental concerns both locally and globally. Our campus community is on the leading edge of environmental protection. We are in a great position to be a role model for other beach communities with similar access and protection conflicts. Recent experience with other California beaches shows that there is a possibility that other beaches could be closed if we do not take responsibility for our actions. You can help protect both Coal Oil Point Reserve and your ability to visit it by treading lightly and reminding others of the same.

Cristina Sandoval is the director of Coal Oil Point Reserve.