The thrills of Isla Vista attract most UCSB students, but some choose to venture beyond Del Playa Drive and Sands Beach to explore the Coal Oil Point Reserve.

The 157-acre reserve is located on West Campus and is home to many types of plants and animals. The species that has been the focus of controversial conservation efforts at Coal Oil Point is the snowy plover – an endangered species that has begun to reproduce at the reserve.

Coal Oil Point Reserve Director Cristina Sandoval said the reserve’s close location to campus makes it an underutilized benefit for students wanting to do research or learn more about wildlife. People that are interested in researching the reserve can submit an application to Sandoval for review.

“There is nothing else in the world like it,” she said. “UCSB students should be proud.”

Certain areas of the reserve, including beach access, are always open to the public. The continued accessibility of the beach to the public is “an unparalleled achievement,” UC Natural Reserve System Director Alexander Glazer said.

“It is a real challenge for an area like this [reserve], embedded in an urban setting, to try to maintain features that make it useful,” he said.

Critics of this effort, such as Andy Caldwell – executive director of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business – believe that the many snowy plover reserves throughout California need to be universally regulated.

At some reserves, dogs are allowed to chase the birds, and in extreme cases, as at the reserve at Pismo Beach, off-road vehicles use the land for recreational purposes, he said.

“There is no consistency in the way programs are designed and run,” he said.

Sandoval lives adjacent to the reserve and is responsible for most of what goes on at Coal Oil Point.

A large amount of her time is spent applying for grants to fund the reserve along with groundskeeper duties, restoration projects and the clearing out of non-native plants. Over the next eight to 10 years, Sandoval will carry out a project to add signs and trails in the reserve, further protecting the endangered snowy plover.

Sandoval said that her work, while often demanding, is worthwhile.

“A piece of natural habitat in the middle of south-central California is a jewel,” she said. “I have never worked at a job that was as rewarding as this.”