The putrid smell coming from the campus lagoon can only mean one thing: spring is here.
As the warm weather rolls in, the first phase of the UCSB Lagoon Park Project is nearing completion. Volunteers and interns have worked for over a year to plant native species, improve the natural filtration of the lagoon and, of course, reduce the rotten smell created by warm weather. The work has been successful thus far, said Wayne Ferren, the executive director of the Museum of Systematics and Ecology.
“The smell could be a lot worse,” Ferren said. “We’ve gone a long way toward improving the quality of the lagoon. We’ve made the lagoon deeper, and that keeps it cool during the warmer months, but no matter what we do, mild odors will be part of the natural process of the area.”
Unfortunately, the smell will never cease to exist, and while it might bother some students, faculty and staff, it is a sign of a healthy lagoon, Ferren said.
“We can reduce the amount of algae, and that can help a great deal,” Ferren said. “Also, it sometimes comes from the birds, which stay around the dock, and not [from] the lagoon water quality at all. Some of the lagoon’s natural features just have certain aromas that we have to live with.”
The primary goal is to increase local vegetation and wildlife of the campus lagoon by restoring it to its natural condition. Workers have cultivated over 12,000 new native plants and monitored nearly 200 different species of bird in the last year, Ferren said.
“By and large, the focus of the project has been to eliminate exotic species and to get more native plants that attract natives species of birds, insects and animals to the area,” he said. “What we need to keep doing is maintain the natural heritage of the land, what we have around us, so we can give it a sense of that Californian habitat.”
A division of the project locates nutrient pollution sources, or areas overpopulated with algae and other aquatic life that rot and produce a bad odor. Sixty-five percent of the nutrient pollution comes from one drainage pipe, Ferren said.
“The water quality of the lagoon reflects that of the ocean,” he said. “We’ve been working to improve the quality of the lagoon, and thus we improve our surrounding ocean, and that’s something that is important.”
The project’s funding comes from the new Manzanita Village housing project, located on the bluff above the lagoon. Before the lagoon project began, foreign plant species had over-grown the area and workers have removed many of them. The lack of dominant native plant species can have a negative effect on the entire ecosystem, said Wayne Chapman, the head of UCSB’s Greenhouse and Nursery Management.
“What we do is in the best interest of bio-diversity,” he said. “The mixing and matching of different species can eventually lead to a downward spiral of the condition of the natural ecosystem. We are trying to bolster that by reintroducing more native species to the area.”
The project has worked with roughly 60 students, volunteers and interns through night classes and a weekly work project at the lagoon. The manual labor and hands-on experience the Lagoon Park Project provides is a valuable opportunity to learn about local habitat, junior biology major Katie McCabe said.
“I think it’s important to take care of the beaches and lagoon, not only to make it nicer to look at, but to create a positive landscape around my school,” she said. “I like being able to watch things grow and how the tides affect it, it’s fun.”
The Lagoon Park Project is part of a broader Lagoon Management Plan headed by UCSB. Ferren said the program is helpful on two levels because it is a learning tool for students and it improves the condition of the environment.
“It’s important to create a combination of a natural setting that can still accommodate visitors,” he said. “What we are doing is preserving the trails and inviting people to access these areas, and ultimately providing good stewardship to the area surrounding UCSB.”