Kim Kolpin has been helping to protect the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve for more than 25 years. The 1,400 acres of wetlands are home to roughly 900 species of animals. Many of them are birds.
“They lay their eggs, raise their young, and as soon as those babies are able to fly, they will all leave these islands,” said Kolpin, Executive Director of the Bolsa Chica Land Trust.
Bolsa Chica is a stop on an avian highway of sorts that stretches from the tip of Alaska down through South America, but since the 19th century the LA-Orange County area has lost more than 90% of its wetlands, mostly due to development.
“These bird species used to have thousands of miles of beaches to lay their eggs on. They don’t have that anymore. Now, we have to fence off little segments of beach for them,” Kolpin said.
A restoration project was completed in 2006, which let in more ocean water at the south end of the wetlands and brought more wildlife to the area, but the recent study found sea level rise is another threat.
“Those nesting islands are definitely in jeopardy,” Kolpin said.
“You’re gonna lose this edge habitat, all of this pickle weed, which is really important nesting habitat for one of our endangered species,” she said, pointing to the wetlands.
That study also presented the agencies involved, including the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, with multiple options, but the question remains how to move forward and how much it could cost.
“Creating living shorelines where there are none now would raise the back of Bolsa Chica up a bit and create a lot more of that sand dune habitat that would benefit these nesting birds,” Kolpin said.
Pre-pandemic, the reserve saw an average of 80,000 visitors per year. Kolpin says the pandemic pushed those numbers to more than 100,000 visitors, but she says keeping the wetlands thriving for guests to enjoy is a fight for funding in a race against time.
“It’s a slow and steady pace and we are hoping that we can increase that pace and we need to in order to make it sustainable and resilient for that sea level rise, climate change,” she said.
And for her, protecting this special place isn’t just vital, she says it’s simply the right thing to do.
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