Image credit and copyright: Lisa Marun
Originally published in the Batiquitos Lagoon Foundation newsletter (September, 2023).
Here at Batiquitos Lagoon, we recognize that we have a unique and valuable treasure that we don’t take for granted. Serving as a drainage basin of about 55,000 acres, the 610-acre Lagoon is one of southern California’s few remaining tidal wetlands.
Our species list includes over 250 birds, most of which can be spotted from our North Shore Trail alone. From the near-threatened Ridgway’s rail (Rallus obsoletus) and snowy plover (Charadrius nivosus) to California gnatcatchers (Polioptila californica), which have a very restricted range, to a visiting tundra swan (Cygnus columbianus) and bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), the Lagoon serves as home, breeding grounds, and a rest stop for an impressive array of avian species.
Lagoon species diversity goes beyond birds, of course. Like all wetlands, air, water, and land meet to offer food, shelter, and a travel stop that both generalist and niche species rely on. You can find over 65 species of breeding and resident fish, sea turtles, and an occasional sea lion, seal, or octopus in our waters, as well as nearly 60 aquatic and land plant species, various land mammals, reptiles, and dozens of identified insects.
Dynamic ecosystems: Where land meets water
All of these species come together to form a special ecosystem that we maintain and enjoy by providing public access, responsible outreach events, and through ongoing stewardship. What makes Batiquitos Lagoon and other wetlands so special, both to us and to the natural, vibrant ecosystems that they comprise?
Here are seven important ecological roles that wetlands play:
- Water purification
- Flood water absorption
- Groundwater recharge
- Carbon sequestration
- Buffer shoreline erosion
- Wildlife habitat and food source
- Human resources
The spongy nature of peat, which is poorly decomposed organic material, gives wetlands the ability to store and release excess rain and snow melt. This water temporarily raises the water level in the wetland, trickles down into groundwater, and serves humans as a flood prevention mechanism.
In addition to these hydrologic filtration, cycling, and storage benefits, peat, along with bacteria and aquatic plants, also traps and stores carbon and nutrients, making wetlands important for both climate change mitigation and providing sustenance for a diversity of wildlife.
Because wetlands are nutrient-rich and also dynamic in terms of their fluctuation between areas of water and land, they serve as critical nesting habitat and migratory refueling stops for many birds. And these migratory and reproductive cycles are also seen in other animals, such as the insects that many birds feed on and some fish and crustaceans which lay eggs in wetlands. Plants also die back and spring up from season to season, and tidal changes in coastal wetlands like Batiquitos Lagoon can reveal additional daily movements of animals that live near the shores.
Finally, for all of these reasons and more, wetlands are an invaluable resource for humans. Wetlands’ ecosystem services are vital. After decades of filling wetlands because they were not deemed to be as productive as they could be if developed or used for agriculture, we’ve come to realize that we had poorly misjudged the economic loss incurred when we no longer had the flood prevention, shoreline erosion buffers, water filtration, and other services those filled wetlands had provided. And, of course, the loss of mental and physical wellbeing associated with humans’ proximity to nature is immeasurable, as is the loss of potential food and medicinal sources.
With better awareness and understanding, we now make great strides to preserve and restore wetlands locally and worldwide. Through our collective influence on legislation, active volunteerism, support of nonprofit wetland organizations, and by being a regular wetland visitor, we can all show how much we value and appreciate the unique importance of these ecosystems today and ensure their conservation for the future.