April 10, 2017

Damage Control

I found myself back in a kayak today for the first time in nearly four years.

I enjoy kayaking as a means to an end—a way to see things from sea level and keep a low profile as birds fly overhead and fish swim underneath.

But unless I've got somewhere interesting to go in it, I don't generally feel the need to be in a kayak...

...or row a boat just for the sake of rowing a boat.

It had been so long since I'd paddled (or had someplace interesting to paddle to) that I wasn't sure that I could finish the four-mile trip through the Los Cerritos Wetlands. The last time I'd been in these waters, I was being propelled in a gondola, navigated by a gondolier.

Fortunately, with me captaining my own ship, our sea voyage was taken at a leisurely pace, stopping to admire the Forster's terns (Sterna forsteri)...

...a school of silvery anchovies, and a sea lion who popped its head up out of the water in Alamitos Bay as we were gliding toward Marine Stadium.

Today I'd come back to paddle myself from the Los Cerritos Channel, past a row of snowy egrets and oil pumps, into an historic salt marsh that's currently awaiting restoration.

If natural wetlands are an endangered species in Southern California, then salt marshes are practically extinct. Long considered "swamps," most of them were filled in, or dredged and then filled in, or channelized, commercialized, and yachtified. Any remaining water has usually been forced into stagnation, cut off from the ocean tides.

circa 2015

In the case of the Los Cerritos Wetlands—situated more or less at the mouth of the San Gabriel River at the border between Long Beach and Seal Beach—there are the oil rigs, as well as two power plants (AES natural gas power plant, and on the east side is LADWP's Haynes Steam Plant), one on each side of the river.

When we got to the midpoint of our trip at Steamshovel Slough, we docked up on the vegetation to listen for the calls of rare Belding's Savannah Sparrows (which are entering their mating season) and to chat about our surroundings.

When our guides asked us what had brought us to this place today, other people in my group spoke about the importance of wetlands for animals and birds while others talked about how critical it is for humans to have access to open space where they can get hands-on education about nature.

And while all of that is true, both of these reasons felt a little too utilitarian to me. In fact, pretty much any reason I could come up with felt like an oversimplification.

But then it dawned on me that the thing I found so intriguing and compelling about this confluence between industry and nature was the opportunity to reverse the damage that humans have being doing to this area for a century or more.

I think that's the whole point of habitat restoration (like what I did on Santa Rosa Island)—to "roll back" the things that the human race has done that we thought were good things but turned out to be selfish and destructive in the long run.

Don't get me wrong—I'm a woman of action. As Lucille Ball is famously quoted as saying, I'd rather regret the things I've done rather than regret the things I haven't done.

But sometimes, the things you've done have got to be undone.

It's OK to make mistakes. What matters is how you fix them.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Naples, the Dreamland of Southern California
Basking in the Gloom at Bolsa Chica Wetlands

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