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Major Project Begins to Restore Coastal Wetland on Santa Cruz Island

filling the prisoners harbor wetland
Filling the wetland at Prisoners Harbor around the 1880s. View is looking northeast towards ocean.
Courtesy of Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

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News Release Date: September 26, 2011
Contact: Yvonne Menard, 805-658-5725

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The National Park Service and The Nature Conservancy announced today the ground-breaking for a large-scale project to restore the coastal wetland at Prisoners Harbor on Santa Cruz Island.  

Coastal wetlands in California are increasingly rare-over 90% have been eliminated. Prisoners Harbor, once the largest coastal wetland on the Channel Islands, was important habitat for wildlife and native plants.

The wetland habitat was reduced by 50 percent in the late 1800s and early 1900s when former island owners filled the wetland with rock and gravel and channelized the creek. Additionally, non-native eucalyptus have proliferated and replaced oak woodlands, willows, and other native plants. These changes degraded the wetland ecology and compromised its effectiveness as a natural floodplain.

Consequences included diminished habitat for island species, such as the Santa Cruz Island fox, island scrub-jay, and migratory waterfowl, as well as reduction in the native riparian woodlands.

To restore the natural function and ecology of the wetland, an engineering firm, Erik Ammon from Anderson, CA, has been contracted to remove fill from the wetland and reshape the landscape to its former condition. A crew of six using heavy equipment will remove 250 feet of artificial berm that had been built up next to the stream which will allow it to flood naturally. This stream, Cañada del Puerto, is the largest on the island and drains 13 square miles of island's interior including the Central Valley.

Dr. Lotus Vermeer, Santa Cruz Island Project Director for The Nature Conservancy, said, "The Conservancy and the National Park Service have been actively restoring the Island's unique flora and fauna and reversing the legacy of 150 years of habitat degradation. We are seeing the island come alive. It is so exciting to see our restoration vision become a reality, and this wetlands project is another important step forward."

The project, which extends over nearly 60 acres of land owned by the NPS and The Nature Conservancy, includes approximately four acres near the shore and nearly one mile of stream habitat in the valley. The project includes the earthmoving contract, planting of wetland vegetation, eucalyptus removal, site preparation, logistics, and environmental compliance.

Prisoners Harbor has an extensive legacy of human occupation from Chumash habitation to historic fishing and ranching. Ranching structures in the project area including a scale house, squeeze chute, and water trough will be carefully relocated, and archaeological resources will be protected. 

Did You Know?

Santa Barbara Island live-forever                 timhaufphotography.com

The Channel Islands are often called the "North American Galapagos" because they are home to over 150 endemic or unique species.