Worth Saving: Wetlands at Ormond Beach Need Our Love

By Chuck Graham   |   April 15, 2021

The perpetual northwest winds were up, grooming the exposed foredunes of a windswept Ormond Beach in southern Oxnard. The well-manicured dunes constantly shifted with the winds, buffering a sliver of coastal wetland still hanging on in Southern California.

The wetlands at Ormond Beach are one of the last remaining coastal wetlands in the entire state. More than 90 percent of all coastal wetlands have been lost to coastal development; harbors, homes, roads, and oil refineries replacing some of the richest, most biodiverse habitats in North America.

Looking at an aerial map of Ormond Beach and the surrounding area, saving this postage stamp of a wetland appears hopeless. The beleaguered wetland is smothered by habitat degradation, especially at the end of McWane Boulevard and Perkins Road. 

A power plant, toxic waste, agricultural run-off, graffiti, and homeless encampments far overshadow this remnant of a struggling coastal eco-system. It appears as if the amount of trash in the channels and mudflats far outnumber the shorebirds, gulls and waders that somehow coexist in this meager ecological quagmire. 

Still a Pulse

At first light Ormond Beach resembled a working wetland. Pools on the mudflats reflected the highest peaks of the nearby Santa Monica Mountains. Western sandpipers tiptoed through the mirrored water as a flock of snow geese migrated north overhead. Behind me, a wide channel was full of waterfowl: ruddy duck, mallard, northern shoveler, and pied- billed grebe. A pair of whit-tailed kites harassed a perched red-tailed hawk as a belted kingfisher spouted off with strident, mechanical rattles heard across the swollen channel.

Naturalist Amy Davis has been leading guided nature walks for The Nature Conservancy for the past four years at Ormond Beach, revealing the natural wonders of a coastal wetland. Most of those walks take place at the end of Arnold Road, the more intact region of the Ormond Beach wetland compared to the badly degraded wetland to the northwest at the end of McWane Boulevard and Perkins Road. Most of her participants are adults, but it’s the children participating in those nature walks that are potentially the next wave of naturalists and stewards.  

“It seems like no one wants to deal with it,” said Davis, touching on the overall state of Ormond Beach. “It’s the ugly stepchild of the area.”

Yet, something stirs as a naturalist. There is a responsibility that comes with stewardship of one of the last remaining wetlands in California. It holds true for an educator such as Davis who enjoys revealing to the next generation of naturalists and stewards that Ormond Beach is still a viable coastal wetland.

“The only way to not go down the rabbit hole of depression is to educate people, or increase awareness,” continued Davis. “These aren’t things we can fix, but maybe these kids can.”

An Ecological Facelift

For years it has felt like the battle cry for Ormond Beach has been a drum beaten to death, and when observing it, the wetland seems like a battle lost. It appears as if the wetland of Ormond Beach is on a downward trajectory to always being an ill-functioning mire with no glimmer of recovery.

Still, like other remaining coastal wetlands, Ormond Beach is an important stopover along the Pacific Flyway for more than 200 species of migratory birds, and restoration work performed in the future will provide habitat and important refuge for migrating and nesting birds of all kinds.

Its foredunes and beaches do look as they should and are mostly void of trash thanks to volunteer efforts. The foredunes and back dunes are vital habitat for western snowy plovers and California least terns. It’s the mud flats, channels, and upland habitats that are in dire need of an environmental facelift.

However, some help is on the way for what will be a long road to recovery. Recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) awarded more than $27 million to 14 states, funds put toward restoring almost 28,000 acres of coastal wetlands and adjacent upland habitats. The California State Coastal Conservancy (SCC) received $7 million of that total sum, with $1 million going towards restoration efforts at 650-acre Ormond Beach. 

Under the National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program, funds were generated via USFWS’s Wildlife and Sports Fish Restoration Program (WSFR). Taxes or import duties from the program were collected from the sale of recreational fishing equipment, boats, electric motors and motorboat and small engine fuels under the authority of the Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Act. 

The WSFR program provides funding for long-term conservation of coastal wetland ecosystems by helping states and territories to protect, restore and enhance coastal habitats. The billions of dollars generated through recreational angling, boating, waterfowl hunting and birdwatching benefit communities in the vicinity of wetland restoration projects.

“Ormond Beach currently is a viable coastal wetland,” said Christopher Kroll, Ormond Beach Project Manager for the SCC. “It has been impacted by the development of the area, but it continues to have great habitat value for many plant and animal species.  Restoration of degraded habitat areas is a goal of the current planning effort. 

“Restoration and public access projects of this scale take a significant (amount) of time at the front end – to identify the opportunity, find the funding, study the ecological impacts, talk to the community, and get the permits lined up – but we’re entering a really exciting period now where I’ll expect people will see things moving forward.”

Some of those efforts include:

• Eradicating 11, and controlling five, non-native, invasive plant species across the 650-acre project area.

• Removing 80,000 pounds of trash from wetlands, waterways, and beaches.

• Monitoring water quality and trash source pollution of three waterways that feed into Ormond Lagoon four times annually.

• Installing 5,000 feet of fencing to protect endangered shorebird nesting habitat and monitor.

• Managing 150 acres of nesting habitat for coastal-dependent and migratory birds.

• Providing six trainings annually for volunteer naturalists, and/or schools, and one training annually to local and state law enforcement on nesting habitat protection and management.

• Managing 24 community-organized waterway and beach clean-up events annually.

• Conducting public outreach on restoration and public access plan, through two public workshops, surveys, focus groups, and field trips conducted virtually, in multiple languages. 

“It is a functioning wetland habitat now, but the goal of the planning effort is to restore habitat areas that have been degraded and improve the public access experience while protecting sensitive species,” continued Kroll. 

“Despite the industry and industrial waste around it, it has been largely untouched by freeways, residential developments, oil extraction, and other urban infrastructure that hem in most of the region’s other wetlands.”

Community outreach is a major goal of the SCC, and Kroll stressed that over the next several years he wants the community of Oxnard to feel a connection with Ormond Beach that it hasn’t had in the past.

“Study after study has shown the physical and mental benefits of access to nature,” explained Kroll. “This project isn’t just important for birds and wildlife; it’s going to be a recreational amenity especially for the people of South Oxnard.”

 

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