A Fundamental Example for Earth Day

By Amélie Dieux   |   April 25, 2023
Michael Love’s new documentary, Bringing Back Our Wetland, highlights the history and restorative efforts of the Devereux Slough

Walking in the grass, feeling the morning dew, hearing the serenity of the place – we might think of a beautiful park surrounded by nature, our senses alive with feeling. But instead here we are back in 1994 – when the Devereux Slough was still a golf course. 

What so intrigued a businessman that he simply had to build a golf course on a swamp? Was it delusions of grandeur, or a megalomaniacal assault on nature? Was the property such a truly sweet deal it couldn’t be passed up, or was it simply blind passion for the sport of golf? Whatever the case, here lies the former Ocean Meadows Golf Course, once upon a time a prime Goleta location. At least, that’s what people thought until the rainy season kicked in and the golf course turned out to be just what it always was… a swamp, a wetland.

Years after its construction when Ocean Meadows turned into “Ocean Ghettos,” residents and investors knew that the situation couldn’t continue like this. From a financial drain to a desolated natural habitat, they realized that everything had to be restored to its original organic splendor – a return to centuries ago when wildlife in the area abounded and it was sacred land used by the Chumash people.

Back in 2017, many community members felt the call. Various organizations like the CCBER (Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration), North Campus Open Space, UCSB, and Santa Barbara Natives (to name just a few) embarked on the project of turning the slough back to its natural beauty. This project wouldn’t have been the same without the help of local filmmaker Michael Love, who explains, “I really enjoy making movies about nature, and my passion is to tell a story where people are able to make a difference in the environment through human interaction.” 

He has dedicated five years of his life to documenting and filming the whole of the Devereux Slough resurgence through his stirring new film, Bringing Back Our Wetland, which had its worldwide premiere at this year’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF). “My job was to cover and follow the important steps that took place in order to get where the wetland is now. I’m really happy that I was the filmmaker who got to tell the story and who was able to bring it out, and that’s what makes me feel good,” he says.

Through the eyes of Love, this historical documentary – as he likes to refer to it – includes different steps of the wetlands project, and the movie is set through various chapters over the years of work. Not only was it a complex process for the filmmaker, but for all the people involved during this time as well – they had to partner with Mother Nature and understand the landscape they were working with, the team had to help re-establish many of the indigenous plant species that once thrived in the space. Approximately 100,000 plants were grown for the restoration, and needed to be cared for. As a result of much long, hard work from determined Santa Barbarans,  plants and flowers – such as the Brodiaea flower, golden yarrow, arenaria, and even the Ventura marsh milkvetch, (once believed extinct)  –  are now flourishing. In fact, the Devereux Slough now hosts the densest non-irrigated population of Ventura marsh milkvetch on Earth. So for plant lovers, this place is a feast for the eyes, and a fragrant healing balm thanks to nature’s natural aromatherapies. Let’s not forget about the return to the wetlands of once-banished wildlife that has returned to find shelter, reproduce, and – depending on the species – live year round. Animal and bird lovers can now experience a real-life National Geographic documentary during your stroll through the wetlands, with glimpses of bobcats roaming the rocks, burrowing owls nesting underground, or an occasional mountain lion wandering the preserve. There are possible sightings of northern shoveler ducks, maybe a fox hiding in the meadow barley, or a night heron preening itself. The Devereux Slough is today a restored paradise for all types of animals, offering the visitor an opportunity to witness incredible natural beauty simply by walking around this expansive 100-acre property. 

The hard work of all the community members involved in this project – from kids, to adults, to seniors, to the Native people who blessed the land – has borne fruit. “This is an ideal project because it shows how a whole community can come together and achieve something that would seem almost impossible,” said Love. The Devereux Slough restoration reminds us how wonderful and important it is to work with nature, and to choose to live in symbiosis with it. As nature thrives (and its weeds with it), the wetland will still need to be managed to maintain its status as a prosperous ecosystem. Nature’s effect on humankind is a bold reminder of our origins. In 2021, University of British Columbia’s Professor Cecil Konijnendijk formulated a very interesting and creative new approach to assuring one’s happiness in an urban setting. He calls his model the 3-30-300 Rule. It’s advised to be able to see three trees outside your home window, to live in a neighborhood in which 30% of the area consists of tree canopy,  and to live at most 300 meters from the nearest natural recreational park or green space. By following these three basic principles, Professor Konijnendijk claims you can create a happier and healthier way of life – simply by living closer to, and in harmony with, nature.

The Devereux Slough’s grand opening officially took place in the spring of 2022. It’s not only a restoration area to be enjoyed by everyone in the community, it is also a place to learn. As Love explains, “The wetlands can have a lot of usefulness for science courses and environmental courses for students who come here.” His documentary will be available at UCSB, and will be available for free viewings at public schools for students to watch. But for Michael Love, this is not the end of his movie project, as this historical documentary will be screened in various international film festivals. “Sometimes you think it is only a local movie,” Love shares, “but it turns out it has value for other communities in other parts of the world.” The international ecological spotlight will thus shine on Santa Barbara and its citizens through the strength and innovation of the communal environmental effort. “It is a nonprofit movie in the sense that it was created to educate people about this process, and inspire people around the world who might want to do something similar to this,” Michael Love added. 

And what better way to spend Earth Day (April 22nd) than to visit the Devereux Slough – a habitat for birds and marine wildlife located at Goleta Point – and to see firsthand how “Bringing Back Our Wetlands” has changed all of our lives. 

A year after the restored slough’s grand opening, the preserve is thriving and teeming with life. And April, being the beginning of spring, energizes our Earth Month appreciation with this year’s slogan; ‘Invest in Our Planet.’ What better enactment of that slogan than the alchemy of an urban golf course returned by dedicated locals to its bejeweled natural state?  

Amélie Dieux is a French-born freelance writer and world traveler – on a mission to provide information with articles that delight and inspire


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