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Evaluation of the Ecological Restoration Projects at The University of California, Santa Barbara’s Lagoon

Matthew Edmiston
Cat Bradley
Chris Anderson

The University of California, Santa Barbara’s lagoon has undergone several ecological restoration projects over the past two decades. Some efforts have proven to be beneficial, while others still need improvement. This paper addresses and evaluates five different locations around the lagoon, the various restoration projects at the sites, and what more could be done at each habitat in order to assess the ecological restoration efforts in the UCSB Campus Lagoon area. The sites addressed are the San Nicolas degraded wetlands, Campus Point, the coastal sage scrub, Manzanita Village and the bioswales. Overall, each of the sites have finished going through extensive restoration, with techniques such as solarization and re-introduction of native species. Most of the ecosystems are now returned to their pre-disturbed state, but continued efforts are needed to preserve the locations.

1.0 Introduction:
The term “ecological restoration” is generally defined as “the return of an ecosystem to a close approximation of its condition prior to disturbance” (NRC Report, 1992). Although this term is often oversimplified, it includes a complex web of cultural, social and political aspects as well as environmental aspects. Due to its complexity, and in many cases, the many competing jurisdictions involved, it is often hard to make and complete ecological restoration goals.
Ecological restoration projects have different goals and objectives depending on the limitations of the projects and the targeted ecosystem. Many restoration projects aim to establish ecosystems by re-introducing native species, while others aim to create or recreate ecosystem services that benefit society such as pollution and erosion control. Although the objectives vary, a common goal all restoration projects are to improve the relationship and interactions between human society and the environment.
The University of California at Santa Barbara’s Campus Lagoon restoration project is at approximately 34.4086 degrees North and 119.8481 degrees West (Google maps, 2014). In about 94 acres, it is “surrounded on the North, East and West by the main campus of UCSB and is bordered on the South by the Pacific Ocean” (CCBER UCSB Campus Lagoon Overview, 2013).

Figure 1: Campus Lagoon Kip Evans Arial Photography (Kip, 2013)

Figure 2: CCBER Management Areas, UCSB Campus, UCSB Lagoon Overview (CCBER Campus Lagoon Overview, 2013) Much of the Campus Lagoon land was degraded due to military and agricultural activities, which peaked around 1970. Because of its current “ecologically sensitive” status (CCBER UCSB Campus Lagoon Overview, 2013), UCSB’s Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological restoration was able to take it on as a restoration and water quality management project.
Santa Barbara is considered to have a Mediterranean climate, which is characterized as a temperate and dry tropical climate consisting of rainy winters and dry summers (Groves, 1991). Much of Santa Barbara’s coastal wetlands, including the Campus Lagoon, are vernal, or seasonal wetlands. Thus, weather plays an important role in the Campus Lagoon maintenance and management. The temperate weather has allowed for a diverse multitude of habitats to thrive at UCSB’s Campus Lagoon, including salt marshes, coastal dunes, coast live oak woodlands, vernal marshes and coastal sage shrubs. Much of the lagoons floor consists of layers of loose and incompact sediment composed of partially decomposed matter (CCBER UCSB Lagoon Overview 2013). Archeologists estimate that mankind has inhabited this area for around 9,000 years, resulting in severe and arguably irreversible land modifications.
To gain an understanding of the Campus Lagoon restoration project, this paper will focus on smaller sites within this area. These sites include the San Nicolas degraded wetlands, Campus Point, the coastal sage scrub, Manzanita Village and the bioswales. Site descriptions, project goals and up to date progress will be discussed along with possible strategies for further restoration.
2.1; San Nicolas Degraded Wetland Description:
On the eastern side of the lagoon, near San Nicolas Dormitory and Parking Lot 5, the San Nicolas Wetland is a half-acre restoration site that collects unfiltered, nutrient rich runoff from the 50 acre main campus watershed (True, 2012). The excess nutrients carried in this urban runoff supported dense algae blooms, which limited the wetlands oxygen level. A student-lead study concluded that the wetland is suffering from eutrophication based off the thick mud of decomposed organic matter found on the bottom of the wetland, and the low diversity of decomposers and bottom dwelling organisms. Due to the wetlands lack of tidal flushing, the low oxygen conditions made the wetland inhabitable for many species (CCBER Wetland Restoration, 2012). Together, these studies have demonstrated that the restoration of the wetland needed to include treatment of runoff before entering the lagoon.
Furthermore, until recently, the site was completely dominated by non-native plants, such as the Kikuyu, which favors moist areas with hydraulic soils. The invasion of these plants caused a lack of biofiltration, increased erosion, increased runoff, and decreased biodiversity. Since 2007, over 5000 native plants have been re-established of more than 30 species (Casey Peters and Lisa Stratton, 2007).
2.2; Campus Point Description:
Campus point consists of a beach, seaside cliff, and plateau. Along the beach, when the tide comes in, tide pools form and host a variety of sea life, including urchins and starfish. Overlooking the ocean are the cliffs and the plateau. Each year the cliffs lose approximately 6 inches due to pressures from the sea and the winds. The plateau of Campus Point is in a transitory state between a native habitat of coastal sage scrub, and the invasive iceplant. The native plant species that reside on the plateau include the coyote brush and ragweed (CCBER, “Lagoon Island and Campus Point”, 2011). In addition to these plants, gophers, ground squirrels, rabbits, and various types of bird – including The Blue Heron – can be seen here (CCBER “Oak Woodland Restoration on Lagoon Island”, 2001).

2.3; Coastal Sage Scrub Description:
Coastal sage scrub is the dominant habitat type on the San Nicolas slope. The habitat is adapted to a dry climate, with an average precipitation of ten inches (CCBER “Coastal Sage Scrub”, 2011). The flora often get the needed water supply from fog, which is why these habitats are common in foggy, coastal areas.
Here, the plant and flowering species largely consists of short, flowering, fragrant shrubs that usually contain hues of yellow, orange, and shades of green. A variety of these species are drought deciduous – meaning that during periods of drought the plants will lose their leaves – despite the fact they thrive in a dryer climate. The site began restoration as a part of the mitigation with the University Center’s expansion (CCBER “San Nicolas Slope”, 2011).

2.4; Manzanita Village Description:
The Manzanita Village restoration project is concerned with native plants, vernal marshes, vernal pools, and grasslands (CCBER Manzanita Village, 2013). These provide local organisms a place to live and reproduce. This six acre restoration site also contains small gardens which represent different habitats (CCBER Manzanita Village, 2013). The purpose of these small gardens is to serve as an educational example. These gardens are beneficial because they increase biological diversity and are aesthetically appealing. They also provide information to the public about the habitats in the area, which creates beneficial public awareness. Within these gardens, the environment consists of coast live oak woodland, sand dunes, and vernal wetlands. And inside these sub-environments live animals, such as birds and insects. Keeping the biological diversity and maintaining the site’s beauty are reasons for restoration.

Figure 3: Entrance to the Gardens, by Matthew Edmiston (2014)

2.5; Bioswales Project Description:
A bioswale is a man-made ditch lined with rocks that allows water to soak into the soil at a slow rate. The purpose of the bioswales is to collect storm water and irrigation runoff from Manzanita. Plants are able to absorb nutrients most efficiently because of the lengthy Average Residence Time (ART) of water in the bioswale. ART is how long a certain substance stays within a reservoir; in this case the bioswale (CCBER Bioswales, 2012). Here, plants include native shrubs, big headed rush, and basket rush. These give rise to animals, such as small mammals and insects. Another function of the bioswales is to limit nutrient leakage into the lagoon. This gives the organisms in the lagoon resources such as water and macronutrients (CCBER Bioswales, 2012), enabling them to thrive.

Figure 4: Identification of the Lagoon restoration sites, by Chris Anderson and Google Maps
3.1; San Nicolas degraded wetlands restoration goals:
The goal of the San Nicolas degraded wetlands project is to first re-adjust the urban runoff to a slow release to promote infiltration and to dilute the dense nutrients contributing to lagoon algae blooms (True 2012). Without the excess nutrient inputs, light and energy will be able to reach the bottom of the wetland, thus supporting natural nutrient cycling and biodiversity (CCBER “Campus Lagoon Overview,” 2013).
Secondly, the San Nicolas degraded wetlands project aims to remove any exotic species including the invasive Kikuyu. Freshwater basins or “detention basins” will then replace the habituated dominated by the Kikuyu grass. However, to avoid further wetland degradation, herbicides cannot be used “within any portion of a stream channel as measured from toe of bank to toe of bank” (Casey Peters and Lisa Stratton, 2007), and all invasive species must be removed by hand. As the invasive species are removed, native species such as coastal scrub will take its place. This will increase the biodiversity, promote biofiltration and help to minimize erosion.
3.2; Campus Point restoration goals:
At campus point, the two primary goals for restoration are to eradicate the iceplant from the plateau, and to restore some of the oak woodland on the campus point-lagoon border. Iceplant has a habit of forming roots where ever it touches the ground, and spreading out over large areas rapidly (California State Parks, 2009). In addition to this, the plant is drought-resistant, and takes water and nutrients out of the soil that could be going to native species (California State Parks, 2009). The restoration projects that have been done so far use a process of solarization on the iceplant – covering the plant with a black tarp to cook the plant and prevent the sunlight from reaching it. In 2008, the solarizing of the iceplant began on the cliff side of campus point, and ended in 2009 when native coastal sage scrub species were reintroduced to the site (CCBER “Lagoon Island and Campus Point”, 2011). The other main goal was the restoration of the oak woodlands. A vast majority of the University of California, Santa Barbara campus was once an oak woodland (CCBER “Lagoon Island and Campus Point”, 2011). Very few oaks remain in the area today, so in an effort to restore the native habitat, oak trees were planted on the lagoon facing side of campus point and the lagoon island. 3.3; Coastal Sage Scrub Restoration Goals:
The main goal for coastal sage scrub restoration on the San Nicolas slope was to reduce the invasive and exotic species and return the native coastal sage scrub habitat to the hill. During the 1995-1998 restoration projects, a variety of native species were reintroduced to the lower parts of the San Nicolas slope (CCBER “San Nicolas Slope”, 2011). The upper part of the slope proved difficult to restore, as it was covered by eucalyptus trees – some of which are still there. These trees block light from reaching the plants on the slope that need it, and the leaves that fall on the ground can cause a chemical change in the soil that prevents development of native plants (CCBER “San Nicolas Slope”, 2011). In addition to this the eucalyptus trees are highly flammable, and the coastal sage scrub habitats are highly prone to fires. In the 2008-2009 restoration projects, volunteers were able to restore some of the habitat on the upper part of the slope, as the ground was cleared of eucalyptus leaves and the canopy cover was thin (CCBER “San Nicolas Slope”, 2011). 3.4; Manzanita Village Restoration Goals:
The main goal for this restoration project is concerned with removing invasive species that threaten the native components. Invasive species pose many problems and have the power to eradicate the already existing species. Eradicating the harmful species can be as simple as pulling them out of the ground or preventing them to grow by using chemical sprays that are safe to the surrounding area. Spraying chemicals can be difficult because neighboring life could get harmed. The ultimate goal is to keep everything in balance.
3.5; Bioswales Project Restoration Goals:
At the Bioswales, a primary goal for restoration is to minimize nutrient leaks into the lagoon. Leaks are not good because, just like with raw meat, cross contamination can bring unwanted results such as chemical interactions producing bad smells and animal plant species not receiving the maximum level of nutrient supply. Furthermore, spraying chemicals can be difficult because neighboring life could get harmed. The solution is simple − bioswales are planted with a diverse assemblage of local native plants, and by allowing water to slow down in these vegetated swales it is slowly absorbed into the soil, where sediments are prevented from running off (“Biofiltration Marsh Text Block”).This action leads to a barrier between the bioswales and the lagoon. The final goal here is to blend the natural and urban landscape. 4.11; San Nicolas Degraded Wetlands progress:
Since the start of the San Nicolas degraded wetlands project in 2007, water quality has been greatly improved, much of the non-native species have been removed, native plants have begun to establish themselves and fresh water basins have been created (True, 2012). As mentioned above, around 3000 native plants have been planted of around 30 native species creating a freshwater marsh plant community. This has served as a filtration marsh for storm water runoff and provides a diverse native species habitat where the monoculture Kikuyu grass used to dominate (CCBER Wetland Restoration, 2012). This project has so far resulted in cleaner water and a healthier environment.

Figure 5: San Nicolas Wetlands Progress (True 2012)
4.12; Campus Lagoon Progress:
Currently, Campus Point is undergoing additional solarization of the iceplant. The species is relentless and continues to thrive throughout the area. Along with the solarization, controlled burning has taken place, which is a technique that began in 2006 in an attempt to move some of the non-native plants (CCBER “Lagoon Island and Campus Point”, 2011).
In addition to this, acorns are being planted across the lagoon side of the mesa. Each of the young oak trees is encased in a tube to prevent wildlife from destroying the plant (CCBER “Oak Woodland Restoration on Lagoon Island”, 2011). 4.13; Coastal Sage Scrub progress:
On the slope of San Nicolas dorm, a variety of native coastal sage scrub species have been planted in an effort to reclaim the area. Among the plants reintroduced here, according to Cheadle Center for Biodiversity & Ecological Restoration, are the, “Lemonade Berry (Rhus integrifolia), California sunflower (Encelia califorinica), and California Sage Brush (Artemisia californica)” (“San Nicolas Slope”, 2011). The problem, however, is that the eucalyptus tree continues to have a large area of leave dropping, covering the ground on the slope that should be occupied by native plants.
4.14; Manzanita Village Progress:
Currently, this area is managed by looking for any outside & harmful species. This is crucial because the area is fragile and susceptible to damage. Over eighty thousand native plants from CCBER’s nursery and greenhouse have been planted over the years (CCBER Manzanita Village, 2013). This process continues to happen and the health of the land is kept up to date.
4.15; Bioswales Progress:
These carved out depressions within the ground have been set up with rock check-dams. These small dams aid in slowing down the flow of water so that life is able to grow and expand. Currently, native vegetation is present, so the main goal has been met. This action ensures that the progress of the bioswales is managed properly. To this day, cleaning up trash takes place. Trash is especially harmful to the animal species there. For example, birds could choke on wrappers and plastic.
4.21; San Nicolas Degraded Wetlands Future Restoration: The future of the San Nicolas degraded wetlands project requires the on- going habitat enhancement and management for the storm water management system and for the maintenance of the native plant life. Annual Monitoring surveys of San Nicolas Wetlands began in 2007, and will continue to monitor topography, hydrology, vegetation types, sensitive species, and wildlife usage (Casey Peters and Lisa Stratton, 2007).
4.22; Campus Point Future Restoration:
There are a few options for the future of campus point. One possibility is to continue the efforts to remove the iceplant from campus, as a vast amount of iceplant remains. If restoration of the coastal sage scrub habitat at campus point is to be achieved, then the iceplant and other non-native species need to be controlled. Another choice could deal with the oak tree issue. Continued monitoring of the growth of the young trees could provide the best opportunity for a successful reintroduction of the species.
4.23; Costal Sage Scrub Future Restoration:
A majority of the problems with restoring the native habitat on the San Nicolas slope deals with the eucalyptus trees. The canopy cover and the tree’s leaf litter cause huge problems for restoration. If the trees were to be removed, the problems of restoration would become much smaller. However, this proposition isn’t ideal, as the removal of large trees is lengthy and expensive process, and the variety of species that have made the trees their homes would be homeless. An alternative that would solve the problem would be the trimming of the eucalyptus canopy branches. This would allow sunlight to the slope, reduce the total amount of eucalyptus litter, and wouldn’t destroy the trees entirely.
4.24; Manzanita Restoration Future:
The Manzanita project makes sure all biological needs are met and supplied by watering the area, pulling weeds, and getting rid of harmful species. In the future, vegetation could be planted so that the soil stays rich and healthy. Vegetation is important because it helps continue biogeochemical cycles that are essential to the well-being of the land.
4.25 Bioswales Restoration Future:
Lastly, looking ahead into the future of the bioswales project, access to this site could be possibly limited so that human interactions aren’t part of the problem. Humans have a tendency to slowly degrade what they come into contact with. To prevent the bioswales from becoming extremely altered, they need to be managed to a greater extent. Entrance should still be allowed, but with stricter rules. This would cause human interaction to decrease, but for student, or even public, unrest to increase. 5.0; Conclusion:
In conclusion, UCSB’s Campus Lagoon restoration project, including sites the San Nicolas degraded wetlands, Campus Point, the coastal sage scrub, Manzanita Village and the bioswales, has been successful in moving towards a goal in terms of establishing a pre-disturbance environment. However, the project not only improved the physical environment, but also built a relationship between this environment and the students by appealing to UCSB’s aesthetic values, and opened up new and unique educational opportunities. Educating the generation of current students at UCSB using the Campus Lagoon Restoration Project could potentially have a big impact on degrading habitats as it could deter future activities resulting in habitat destruction, as well as spark interest in a potential career in ecological restoration.


"Biofiltration Marsh Text Block." CCBER. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.<>
Bioswales. N.d.. University of California Santa Barbara. Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration. Web. 20 Feb. 2014. <>.
Casey Peters and Lisa Stratton, PhD. 2007 Monitoring Water Table in San Nicolas Wetland –A Potential Restoration Site, CCBER, University of California, Santa Barbara
CCBER. "Campus Lagoon Overview." The Regents of the University of California. 28 Jan. 2011. Web. CCBER. “Coastal Sage Scrub.” The Regents of the University of California. 28 Jan. 2011. Web.

CCBER. “Lagoon Island and Campus Point.” The Regents of the University of California. 28 Jan. 2011. Web.

CCBER. “Oak Woodland Restoration on Lagoon Island.” The Regents of the University of California. 28 Jan. 2011. Web.

CCBER. "Wetland Restoration 2012." The Regents of the University of California. 28 Jan. 2011. Web.

Evans, Kip. "View Campus Lagoon UCSB." Campus Lagoon. | Nature Photography|Mountain Prints|Coastal Prints, n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2014. <>.

Groves, R.H. Biogeography of Mediterranean Invasions. N.p.: Cambridge UP, 1991. Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, 01 July 2002. Web.

Iceplant. California State Parks, 2009. Print.

"Manzanita Village." The Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration (CCBER). University of California, Santa Barbara, 2013. Web. 12 Mar. 2014.

National Research Council. 1992. Restoration of Aquatic Ecosystems: Science, Technology and Public Policy. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.

True, Kimberly. Low Impact Development (LID) at UCSB Library Plaza and San Nicolas Wetland. Santa Barbara Clean Water. Landscape Architect, QSD/P, n.d. Web.

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