A team of volunteers spent Sunday morning tearing out the last remnants of invasive ice plant from a section of the Carpinteria Salt Marsh.
Personnel from Channel Islands Restoration escorted the volunteers through a private gate to the project site on Sand Point Road.
Elihu Gevirtz, Channel Islands Restoration Senior Ecologist, said ice plants are native to South Africa and Australia. They were brought to California sometime in the last 100 years for landscaping and erosion control.
“The problem is that, as with a lot of non-natives, it can just take over the native habitat,” said Mr. Gevirtz, as he pointed out a piece of salt grass shooting out from between the leaves of ice plant.
“That grass is native but it (the ice plant) is growing over the native stuff so the plants and the animals that depend on this stuff have nowhere to go. By taking it out, we’re restoring the habitat for the native plants and animals that live here,” said Mr. Gevirtz.
He explained that the Belding’s Savannah Sparrow is a small bird that feeds on insects in the marsh and lays its eggs on the upper margins of the estuary, where they won’t be flooded by high tides but can still hide from predators.
“If the habitat is covered with ice plant then there’s nowhere for this bird to nest, and it’s an endangered species so if we want to make it recover and not be endangered we need to restore the habitat,” said Mr. Gevirtz.
He added that ice plant also disrupts the growth of Salt Marsh Bird’s Beak, an endangered plant that only grows in seven places in the whole world.
“It only occurs in a couple salt marshes in the world and this is one of them. It’s threatened by loss of habitat due to sea level rise. One of the things that we’re talking about now that we’ve cleared the ice plant on the berm here and allowed native (plants) to grow may be planting some seeds of this Salt Marsh Bird’s Beak,” said Mr. Gevirtz, who admitted that the rehabilitation effort would require state and federal government permission and a generous donation.
“That might give the plant a refuge from the sea level rise.”
Mr. Gevirtz added that salt marsh habitats are becoming increasingly rare because in North America, they have historically been a popular place to build airports.
“They’re flat, and near a city. LAX, San Francisco (International Airport), the Santa Barbara Airport, of course, was built on the Goleta Slough estuary,” said Mr. Gevirtz.
Between the University of California Natural Reserve, the City of Carpinteria and private owners, all 230 acres of the Carpinteria Salt Marsh are protected from development.
Over the past seven weekends, volunteers have cleared nearly 2,200 feet of ice plant from the side of Sand Point Road.
Over the next few weeks, Channel Islands Restoration will repopulate the area with native plants from their greenhouses including Alkali heath and a native buckwheat.
“Once they’re established, these natives can pretty much hold their own against the ice plant. It’ll probably need a little bit of ongoing maintenance, all projects do. But there are places where we’ve removed ice plant a year ago, and they’re still looking really good,” said Mr. Gevirtz.
The next invasive species on Channel Islands Restoration’s hit list is limonium duriusculum, commonly known as the European sea lavender.
Mr. Gevirtz said the invasive plant carpets five acres of the salt marsh and competes against the Salt Marsh Bird’s Beak.
“We estimate there’s some 100,000 of these in the marsh. We don’t want to use herbicide to kill it because we don’t want to introduce that into the marsh,” said Mr. Gevirtz, who suggested a future donor funded project into the marsh to pull out the invasive plant by hand. “That would be a generous gift,” he said.
Michelle Gillian of Santa Barbara said she found out about the volunteer effort through an internet search at work.
“We want to connect with environmental groups and so when I saw they were pulling ice plant I thought ‘I wanna do that!’” said Ms. Gillian.
Angie K of Santa Barbara said she has been volunteering for Channel Islands Restoration for around four years and thought the project would be a good way to start the year.
“We’re gonna be at the San Marcos Foothill Preserve in February, to do restoration from the fires,” she said.
Linda Lundeen came all the way from Somas, which is near Camarillo, to get rid of the ice plant.
“I thought this was a good opportunity to be out in the wild and getting my exercise in a beautiful place,” she said.
Channel Islands Restoration is a non-profit contractor that works to restore habitat on the Channel Islands and the adjacent mainland through invasive plant management, native plant breeding, and native plant installation.
To learn more or donate, visit https://cirweb.org/