Imagine watching huge pods of dolphins swim past your boat while on the way to your volunteer restoration project, and then spending three days working outside on a beautiful island, where your cell phone will not work and the world is left far behind. This is the experience Growing Solutions, a small nonprofit organization, recently created with its Cañada Del Puerto Creek Restoration and Education Project on Santa Cruz Island in the Channel Islands National Park. Funded in part by the Southern California Wetland Recovery Project’s Community Wetland Restoration Grant Program (which in turn is funded by Earth Island Institute’s Restoration Initiatives), the project included the building of a native plant nursery on Santa Cruz Island, as well as a restoration project on the banks of the island’s Cañada Del Puerto Creek.
Growing Solutions enlisted a number of partners to help with complex logistics and high transportation costs. Dr. Lotus Vermeer from The Nature Conservancy provided island access and support. Kathryn McEachern of USGS, who heads the recovery efforts of nine federally listed plants on the island, worked with the group on rare plant recovery. Dr. Lyndal Laughrin, the Santa Cruz Island Reserve Manager for the University of California Reserve System, provided accommodations, cooking facilities, and office space. The National Park Service helped with the transportation of materials, while Island Packers, which runs ferries to the national park, offered a volunteer rate to project participants.
More than 125 students from local high schools and Santa Barbara City College ventured to Santa Cruz Island on various trips over the course of a year in the capable hands of Don Hartley and Karen Flagg from Growing Solutions. When the volunteers arrived at the island, they were briefed on local plant genetics and why growing plants “locally” is important. They were shown plant production operations, learned about invasive species, and were introduced to the science of restoration ecology. For the purpose of this project, fennel was the invasive species of focus, and the students learned firsthand the damage caused by, and the challenges to removing, a monoculture of fennel, a deep rooted plant that crowds out native species. Students also were able to interact with the island’s more permanent researchers at the University of California Research Station.
But this wasn’t just a school field trip. The project’s “hands-on” component was critical to achieving its educational goals. Students got dirty during seed collection, plant production, weed eradication, irrigation installation, planting, mulching, and monitoring and maintenance of the site. More than a dozen native plants are being propagated at the nursery, which will produce plants for relocation around the island and help support a large wetland restoration proposed for Prisoners Harbor, the primary access point for Santa Cruz Island, where Cañada del Puerto Creek meets the ocean. The 50-acre project, scheduled for implementation this fall, will restore one mile of stream corridor and a 4.5-acre coastal wetland; reconnect the stream channel with its floodplain; re-establish a diversity of native wetland and riparian plant communities; and promote education while providing access to the wetland and stream.
Today, work at the Santa Cruz Island nursery continues, as do efforts to remove invasive vegetation from the island and reverse significant impacts from decades of ranching activities. Of course, the project’s benefits go beyond the ecological. As one of the high school participants wrote on a post-trip evaluation form, “Best trip ever! I learned so much!”
– Shawn Kelly
The Community Wetland Restoration Grant Program, supported by EII’s Restoration Initiatives, funds community-based coastal restoration projects in Southern California. To learn more, visit restoration.earthisland.org. Growing Solutions works with clubs, schools, and colleges to run native plant nurseries and manage restoration sites. To learn more, visit growingsolutions.org.
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