Robert Jan 'Roy' van de Hoek, Field Biologist and Geographer
Malibu Lagoon Institute and Malibu Slough Foundation
P.O. Box 192, Malibu, CA 90265
The field work by the UCLA team of Raven and Thompson is significant because it occurred in 1959, prior to major alteration of the natural landscape at Malibu Lagoon. Their field work documents a base-line of information. For example, they knew Malibu Lagoon before the new bridge and before fill from the 1969 landslide at Sunset Boulevard was used to cover up Malibu Lagoon for baseball fields and a private golf course. They observed that Malibu Lagoon naturally shrank in size during summer, resulting in higher salinities. Now the Lagoon experiences “freshening" in summer from unnatural upstream urban runoff which also explains why Suaeda taxifolia no longer occurs there. By re-investigating field-research of botanists, a major step toward recovery analysis of birds and other animal life at Malibu can also be achieved, not unlike the mythology of a “phoenix-rising" or “breaking through" as discovered by John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts in Robinson Jeffers' poetry.
Between 1902 and 1940, very little botanical work was done in Malibu because access was restricted to any scientists or naturalists into the large private domain of the Rindge Family Malibu Rancho. This large void of knowledge extended through the 1940s and 1950s not only because of World War II, but also because botanists usually visit collection locales of earlier scientists to substantiate the continued presence of plants for the systematic and taxonomic studies. Since virtually no early collections existed for Malibu, few botanists visited there, even after Malibu was opened with a public road in 1929. However, in 1959, Raven and Thompson reversed that trend. For these reasons, the legacy of the field work by Raven and Thompson will only grow in importance with time. Remember: They studied Malibu in 1959, ten years prior to the massive filling-in of the wetlands in 1969 for roads, parking, stores, ballfields, and a golf course.
This preliminary study of the historical plant ecology of Malibu Lagoon shows clearly that some extinction has occurred at Malibu Lagoon and that a genuine recovery is possible. For example, Raven and Thompson collected a Suaeda taxifolia (see appendix) that was common at Malibu Lagoon. In my early field research in 1978 at Malibu Lagoon, this plant was still present at Malibu Lagoon. It occurs not on the mudflats or deeper water habitat, but in the upper marsh wetland transition to dune and prairie. This kind of habitat is most at risk at Malibu Lagoon, hence the extinction of this plant. Thorough surveys from 1999 to 2004 for Suaeda taxifolia have been unsuccessful. However, this plant is still common at Ballona wetlands Venice Canals, and Mugu Lagoon, areas north and south of Malibu Lagoon. It is time now for a post-modern eco-recovery and genuine ecological restoration of this beautiful and ecologically important plant. A new group restoration ecologists in the San Francisco Bay region that restored Crissy Field Salt Marsh have abandoned the old common name of Sea Blite with a new positive sounding name of Sea Lite. Restoration and Recovery is both a process of bringing back plants and animals that once occurred at a given geographical locale, but also rethinking our language and symbology of the plants and animals.
There are still many missing gaps of the plants that Peter Raven and Henry Thompson collected at Malibu Lagoon (see appendix), but I am closing the gap in this historical research, so that genuine restoration and recovery of native plants can occur. The same kind of research needs to happen for insects, birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians, and I am also conducting this historical resarch for Malibu Lagoon, so that genuine restoration and recovery of the terrestrial meadow - marsh and dune - prairie fauna and the mutual transition ecosystems can occur.
One unique type of "restoration facilitation" that is occurring at Malibu Lagoon is utilizing the abundant Salt Marsh Dodder, Cuscuta salina, at Malibu Lagoon as a nursery plant for recovery and restoration at the Ballona wetlands, where Salt Marsh Dodder has been extinct for at least 23 years. At both Del Rey Lagoon and Ballona Lagoon, just a several miles southeast of Malibu Lagoon, research into the conservation biology, environmental history, and ecological restoration has begun. Experimental populations of Salt Marsh Dodder have been established again in a few locations at Del Rey Lagoon and the Ballona wetlands. Results are preliminary but the first signs are good, but many more Salt Marsh Dodder plants from Malibu Lagoon are still needed to insure the successful restoration and recovery at Ballona. Any dredging or filling that reduces or eliminates the Salt Marsh Dodder populations at Malibu Lagoon precludes and sets back the interim restoration and recovery processes of the wetlands in the greater Ballona Ecosystem.
Finally, in conclusion, this year, many more plants and animals are being experimented with restoration and recovery at Malibu Lagoon, including the state of California endangered Beach Spectale Pod, Federally endangered Marsh Milkvetch, Salt Marsh Bird's Beak, Snowy Plover, and California Least Tern. The restoration and recovery of the government-recognized endangered species require that no dredging and filling of any kind can occur at Malibu Lagoon. Any type of mechanical equipment at Malibu Lagoon that conducts movement of mud or soil would hamper the success of the restoration of the five endangered species just named above. Even the Suaeda taxifiolia which I have just restored in October, 2004, although not an endangered species, would be destroyed by any dredging and filling by mechanical equipment, even under the guise of restoration as proposed by Heal the Bay, UCLA, and the state agencies.
At this time it is believed that Peter Raven and Henry Thompson collected approximately 40 species of plants at Malibu Lagoon. However, it is predicted that with further research, that as many as 50 to 70 species were collected at Malibu Lagoon on that one day of September 6, 1959.
APPENDIX NOTE. The abbreviations used above are the botanical codes used for the following museums: CAS for California Academy of Sciences; RSA for Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden; UCLA for University of California Los Angeles.
14,656 ... 10-18-59 ... CAS 508,276 ... Ruppia maritima ... Submerged in brackish water of upper dune back of beach, near mouth of Topanga Creek. El.5'. UCLA 33,89x?.
14,657 ... 10-__-59 ...?
14,660 ... 10-__-59 ...?
14,670 ... 10-__-59 ...?
14,680 ... 10-__-59 ...?
14,690 ... 10-__-59 ...?
14,700 ... 10-__-59 ...?
14,711 ... ?
14,712 ... 10-25-59 ... UCLA 33,987 ... Scirpus americanus ... Along Malibu Creek, in shade, 4.1 miles north of Coast Hwy, 2-3 meters tall with S.californicus. El.: 300?E
Appendix Note: At least 5 of 40 plants (10%) found at Malibu Lagoon in 1959 have been relocated at the UCLA Herbarium. Further research of the vouchers will add plants and their ecological habitat data. Topanga Creek vouchers will also be reported upon.
The abbreviation for California Academy of Sciences is CAS and for Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden it is RSA.