UCSB students apparently were not the only ones who enjoyed their summer.
The endangered western snowy plovers of Isla Vista’s Sands Beach hatched 16 chicks from nine nests between the months of March and July. Of the 16 chicks, 14 survived to adulthood. This plethora of plucky plovers follows a 30-year period in which only one plover hatched and survived. Coal Oil Point Reserve Director Cristina Sandoval said these statistics suggest the protection of plover nesting grounds on Sands Beach is effectively restoring the local plover population.
“We are the first beach that reverted this bad situation and made it into a more natural state. The good news is that the plovers responded to it right away,” she said.
Sandoval also said the chances of the successful breeding season being coincidental were slim.
“Scientifically speaking, because we don’t have a repetition of this experiment, we can’t say yet that what we’re doing is responsible for the success of this year’s plovers. The only way we’ll know for sure is by watching the plovers over the years,” Sandoval said. “But it’s very unlikely that this was just a fluke because it wasn’t just one or two birds, it was several.”
The program, which began last November, involved roping off about 400 meters of Sands Beach known as nesting areas, encouraging beach-goers to keep their dogs leashed and stationing docents to both educate people about plovers and pick off lurking crows with slingshots. Ideally, the plan would protect the birds while still allowing people to enjoy recreation. Sandoval said being separated from human intrusion puts the birds at ease.
“With the fence, they didn’t have the people always there. They basically said, ‘Okay, not getting disturbed. Let’s just nest here,’ and now they can stay,” Sandoval said. “I’m expecting even more to come nest here next year.”
Kevin Lafferty, an adjunct UCSB faculty member and a marine ecologist with the United States Geological Survey, said he agreed with Sandoval: This year’s plover yield was a success – even if an unexpected one.
“Up and down the coast in California, it was an average year for plovers,” Lafferty said. “We never expected that would happen here. If you had asked me a year ago, I would have said that it would not have been likely.”
A weasel is the likely culprit in the death of the two chicks that did not survive, Sandoval said, and therefore not a regrettable loss. Sandoval said the coexistence of plovers and beach-goers on Sands Beach is emblematic of a solution to a larger ecological problem.
“It’s important because this crisis between the environment and urbanizaton is everywhere, and people are looking for this kind of successful balance.”
Sandoval also said students new to the community were welcome to participate in the docent program in which about 70 docents are currently participating.
“We accept docents all the time,” she said. “It’s a great way to meet other people who have similar minds about preservation. … It’s a great community here. It’s so environmentally minded that people from all over the place wanted to do this.
Students interested in becoming a docent can call the program’s coordinator Jennifer Stroh at 880-1195.