Besides its own unique smell, the UCSB Lagoon harbors several unique species of plants and animals that researchers are trying to preserve.
The Lagoon Park Project involves habitat restoration and ecological research on the western side of the Lagoon and the areas surrounding the construction site for the new Manzanita Village dorms.
The project’s goal is to remove exotic plant species which had been introduced over time by passing ships carrying seeds or plants from other countries and parts of the U.S., said Wayne Ferren, executive director for the Museum of Systematics and Ecology. Researchers will replace these exotic plants with ones native to the campus landscape, to create a habitat that will attract and sustain native wildlife.
“While habitat restoration is defined as putting something back the way it was, most of what we do in the form of restoration is not really putting it back the way it was.” Ferren said. “[It is a] combination of creating a habitat, enhancing existing conditions, removing exotic species and recovering endangered species. We are manipulating the site to return it to as close to its natural state as possible.”
The Lagoon Park Project is concerned with preserving the endangered species that live on the site, such as Coulter’s salt bush, which is confined to UCSB.
“The only mainland locality in Southern California occurs on campus,” Ferren said. “We are very concerned for the species.”
The researchers are learning how to grow the plant in a greenhouse and are monitoring its development on the site. They hope the plant will one day thrive on its own in nature and will no longer need to be monitored by scientists.
“You take an area that is just weeds and is not very active, not being used by wildlife and plant the native plants, then the wildlife is just drawn to it and it just comes alive,” restoration coordinator Jason Nelson said.
The Goleta Slough, which runs from the Lagoon to Goleta Beach, is one of the richest areas for bird diversity throughout the whole country and many of these bird species can also be seen on the Lagoon. Other animals that have been spotted on the site include species of snake, rabbit, skunk, mouse, ground squirrel, bobcat, coyote and deer.
The lagoon area is home to many plant and animal species including the western marine pygmy blue butterfly, the smallest butterfly in the world.
Ecological research is another important facet of the project, Ferren said.
“We are looking at the response by these rarer butterflies to different species planted along the Lagoon edge,” he said.
The researchers are planting different pairs of native plant species next to each other at different spots along the lagoon and monitoring which pairs of plants attract the most insects. “That will give us a chance to see what is best for the insects of the area,” Ferren said.
The project is funded by the Manzanita Village Housing Project and is managed by Ferren. Chuck Haines, coordinator of resource planning for Housing and Residential Services, said construction for the Manzanita Housing project had to be postponed more than once because the new dorms were encroaching on the natural wetland habitats.
“When it was originally approved we were going to make the lagoon park part of the housing project, but when we discovered other wetland resources on the site the environmental aspect of the project grew,” Haines said. “We redesigned things away from the wetlands so that we wouldn’t build on them, but the Coastal Commission said that we had to move construction at least 100 feet away from all wetlands, and so we redesigned it one more time.”
The Housing project is designed to house 800 students, and will include an outdoor staircase and boardwalk made of recycled plastic, pedestrian paths, and bicycle paths running near the wetlands.
The project also includes improving the path that runs next to the lagoon for public access to the natural areas and constructing ponds, an oak woodland, a grassland, a coastal scrub area and a bio-filter that will naturally clean rain runoff before it flows into the Lagoon.
Lagoon Park Project offers UCSB students internship and volunteer positions through the, Environmental Studies, Geography and Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology departments.
“I encourage people to come out to the Lagoon and look at it and if they see us working out here to ask questions about it,” restoration coordinator Matt James said. “Almost everything we’ve heard is positive; people like what we are doing, and it’s always good to hear that.”