Thousands of wavy turban snails lay on the sands of Coal Oil Point Reserve in the aftermath of the storms in early January. The snails — many of which remain onshore — washed up due to powerful storm surges and high tides resulting from waves over 10 feet.
In the comments of Instagram and Facebook posts sharing the peculiar scene, users suggested that visitors of Coal Oil Point Reserve toss shells back into the water.
But what do the experts advise?
Hanna Weyland, a western snowy plover specialist at Coal Oil Point Reserve, spoke on the topic.
“It’s complicated,” she said. “We try not to encourage people to touch protected resources.”
Even empty shells, she emphasized, are valuable.
“Just because they’re unoccupied, it doesn’t mean they won’t be occupied in the future. They can [be] great homes for other creatures.”
Coal Oil Point Reserve is a part of the Campus Point State Marine Conservation Area, all of which is a no-take zone. This means that it is prohibited by law for visitors to touch or take any living, geological or cultural resource within its 10.56 square mile boundary, an area that stretches from Campus Point to Ellwood Forest Park and several miles into the water.
Because scientists aim to both restore and conserve the habitats and species living within them, it’s essential that we minimize human disturbances. It is critical that visitors approach Coal Oil Point Reserve and the greater Campus Point State Marine Conservation Area with utmost respect.
“We are coming into these organisms’ homes, not the other way around,” Weyland said.
The beauty of the protected land is housed in its tremendous diversity of wildlife
“There’s so many habitats that occur on this particular stretch of land. The area is home to numerous coastal-strand, shorebird, coastal scrub mix, marine and intertidal species,” Weyland said.
It’s also home to the western snowy plover, a federally threatened species of shorebird. Coal Oil Point Reserve has participated in efforts to conserve and protect the western snowy plover. From March to September, visitors of Coal Oil Point Reserve should be extra cautious of tiny hatched plover chicks scurrying on the beach. Barely the size of a cotton ball, the birds require extra attention to survive to adulthood.
Daira Chavez-Hernandez, a student intern at Coal Oil Point Reserve, spoke on the precautions people should exercise. “Pick up any trash on the beach … like sunscreen bottles. Trash can attract predators like skunks and seagulls that prey on the threatened snowy plover.” Sharp glass that hasn’t yet been eroded should be picked up, too.
Chavez-Hernandez added, “Be mindful of … plants, signs [and] areas that are roped off.” These are specially designed to protect sensitive species found on the reserve.
Weyland emphasized a crucial principle to follow: Leash your dogs!
“The reserve [is a] part of UCSB, and it’s right in front of the plover habitat. All we’re asking for is if you can keep your dogs on a leash for a seven-minute walk, or an 800-meter stretch of land.”
To further protect marine life, here are some additional rules to keep in mind:
- No unleashed dogs
- No bikes
- No E-bikes/scooters
- No horses
- No drones
- No recreation in front of the roped-off plover habitat
- Do not place belongings in front of the roped-off plover habitat
The guiding principle, according to Weyland, should be to limit all disturbances.
As Weyland put it, “it is a privilege to have an accessible environment as beautiful as the [Campus Marine Protected areas] in our backyards.” Indeed, it is our duty, as habitants of Isla Vista and students at UCSB, to protect the natural beauty that thrived here long before us.
Be sure to follow @coaloilpointreserve on Instagram for research and marine life highlights, and keep an eye out for plover chicks from March to September!