The Aliso Estuary, a crucial and rare coastal wetland, is set to be restored through a $300,000 grant awarded to the Laguna Ocean Foundation by the California Coastal Conservancy. Over 90 percent of California’s coastal wetlands have disappeared due to developments for ports, harbors and residential enclaves like Newport Beach.
California’s coastal estuaries are central as nurseries for our ocean fisheries. Healthy wetlands filter toxic herbicides, pesticides, excess fertilizers and other contaminates before they can pollute recreational beaches and essential fish habitats like local tide pools and kelp forests. Pond turtles and migrating birds rely upon wetlands for food and shelter. Native wetlands are a transition from land to sea and enhance the overall beauty of Laguna’s shoreline. Perhaps you are aware that Aliso Beach is the only place where the Laguna Greenbelt touches the Laguna Bluebelt.
Recently, the South Laguna Civic Association contributed $1,000 to help with start-up costs for the Aliso estuary restoration feasibility study by LOF. Other groups and individuals, as well as the city, should add funds and energy to this landmark initiative.
Urban planners rely on criteria for “highest and best use” when evaluating development plans. The US Fish & Wildlife Service long ago designated the Aliso Estuary – the only site in Orange County – for tidewater goby restoration. The tidewater goby is a key indicator species of a healthy watershed and coastal waters. Southern steelhead trout require the estuary for growth. Now is the time to make this vision a reality.
Although the highest and best use for this neglected lagoon is full restoration, consider the demographics of client groups competing for the location. Some local interests are promoting degrading this coastal wetland site by paving it for a skateboard park. It would be better to locate this activity where the real concentrations of skateboarders in Laguna Beach are actually located.
Poor planning and fragmented governance only encourages unrealistic projects and community discord. City leaders must be wise enough to weigh long term benefits like a fully restored Aliso Estuary against the limited interests of frustrated single interest groups and the recreation committee. Diverting problems like a skateboard park to South Laguna undermines a tremendous regional effort spanning many decades to restore our rare, essential wetlands.
Let’s stand up and speak up now to “Bring the ‘Lagoon’ Back to Laguna.”
Mike Beanan, Laguna Beach
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