Life is not always a day at the beach.
Sweaty with exertion, bent over in effort, 40 members of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity came together last Saturday to clear weeds and pull out rusty fence posts and pipes from the Coal Oil Point Natural Reserve.
The fraternity needed a community service project because of a new requirement for the greek system and planned to do a beach cleanup for the Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit beach and ocean preservation group. The fraternity’s plans changed when Surfrider told it that beaches do not need cleaning during the winter, as the rain sweeps the trash out to sea. There was, however, some work to be done near the golf course.
“We figured since we all love spending time at the beach that we would do something at the beach,” Pi Kappa Alpha External Vice President Paul Scheiffer said. “Surfrider suggested we do something out at the reserve and we thought it would be a good way to give back to the community.”
Surfrider referred the fraternity to Coal Oil Point Reserve Director Cristina Sandoval, who Surfrider has worked with at the reserve for the last five years. Surfrider chair Ken Palley said he suggested Coal Oil Point Reserve to the fraternity because work there would help the ocean as well.
“Any environmental preservation will always improve the ocean environment, because so many things affect the ocean, from drain runoff to litter in other areas,” Palley said. “So this will positively impact the ocean.”
Community groups and local elementary schools regularly volunteer at the reserve but this is the first time a greek organization has volunteered to help, according to Sandoval. She said she hopes the fraternity will spread the word in the greek system, possibly to the point where they could create a regular restoration program.
“The fraternities and sororities have to do regular community service and this is their backyard, so it is just excellent that they are doing this,” Sandoval said. “Hopefully this is the beginning of a significant project.”
Sandoval said she hopes getting UCSB students involved in restoration of the reserve will make them less likely to abuse it.
“I think when they sweat here they will feel like they own a part of it and will use it more responsibly,” she said. “This is a chance to do outreach to the community, for them to understand why it’s here and why to respect it.”
Pi Kappa Alpha has plans to return to the reserve later this year and hopes to make volunteering at the reserve a fraternity tradition.
“I think we’re definitely going to make this a yearly thing, and we’ll probably be back out there in spring,” Scheiffer said.
The 157-acre reserve needs the help of volunteers because Sandoval is the sole employee, and its $12,000 yearly budget is not enough to hire people to do the work.
“The [fraternity] is doing a great service to the reserve and the university,” Sandoval said. “We have a low budget and this is a great service.”
Coal Oil Point is part of a national reserve system owned and operated by the University of California. UC sets aside large natural areas, like Coal Oil Point, for habitat restoration, research and education.
“It’s like a large lab,” Sandoval said. “A lot of students don’t get a lot of time to do research because there is the competition in the laboratories, but here anyone can spend a lot of time learning.”
Future work on the reserve will include planting rare and endangered native plants, removing exotic species of plants and tearing out and replacing remaining old fences. Sandoval also hopes to someday be rid of the eucalyptus trees, which house predatory animals like crows that prey on endangered animals in the area, including the western snowy plover.
The reserve is best known for its snowy plover habitat restoration. Last year, reserve volunteers erected a small fence on the reserve’s beach, designating an area where people are not allowed to walk and dogs are not allowed off-leash, giving the endangered plovers an undisturbed area to nest and lay eggs. The plovers hatched 14 chicks last year, up from one the previous year. That plover was the first one born on the reserve in 30 years.
“The fences worked great and the students have been very respectful of the fence,” Sandoval said. “It was amazing; the plovers knew almost right away which side of the fence to go to. They could tell, this side has the footprints and this side does not.”
Sandoval depends on community groups to help maintain the reserve because she does not have enough time to do it all herself. She said Pi Kappa Alpha’s work Saturday will give her time to focus on other projects on the reserve.
“These guys are doing more work in one day than I could do in 30,” she said.
Scheiffer said the work was hard, but it was satisfying to see the results of their labor.
“I thought it was pretty fun. It was pretty back-breaking, but we’re all athletic guys so it was a good project for us,” Scheiffer said. “It was pretty intense, but it was worth it.”