Opinion: Green Light

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Big Plans for the Little Tidewater Goby 

By Tom Osborne

In Laguna Beach, we wrangle over parking, views, local elections and more. On the other hand, having lived here nearly half a century, I’ve noticed that few things unify us more than our love of the sea. Sewage spills are followed by letters to City Council and our newspapers. 

Oil and tar balls on our shores could get many of us, including me, demonstrating at Main Beach and contacting city, county, and state officials.

To protect our local waters by educating the public on marine ecology, the Laguna Ocean Foundation (LOF) was founded in 2003. The nonprofit organization does this by engaging in citizen science and, at times, taking on projects such as restoring the Aliso Creek Estuary, immortalized in the paintings of such art luminaries as William Wendt. I’ve talked to numerous residents about this restoration project and, like me, they’re excited about it. 

Alas, the idyllic estuary painted by Wendt in the early twentieth century fell victim to booming development upstream after the mid-century. A host of new towns were carved into once-green hillsides and open space. Large new lawns called for fertilizers, new roads accommodating the growing number of cars meant emissions and oil traces, and more pets resulted in more poop. Rains washed the fertilizers, automotive residues, and pet waste into Aliso Creek and other streams emptying into the Pacific.

By the time our family settled in what was then still South Laguna in the mid-1970s, Aliso Creek smelled of chemicals. It had become a degraded watercourse and estuary. Native fish, like the barely two-inch-long tidewater goby (Eucyclogius newberry), disappeared because of poisons in the water carried by upstream urban runoff. I would not have known about this victimized little fish but for the tireless advocacy of Lagunan Mike Beanan and the Laguna Bluebelt Coalition, which kept the matter before the public and worked with the upstream watershed cities to minimize pollutants entering the creek. 

The next step in bringing back the tidewater goby, pond turtles, native fowl and vegetation to the creek entails restoring the estuarial habitat. In the process, what scientists call a “living shoreline,” or natural buttress to sea-level rise, will have been built. This means defending our shoreline from climate change-induced rising seas by relying on native vegetation and rocks and not erecting a sea wall or concretized barrier. Completing an estuarial restoration project of this scale and this visionary is where the Laguna Ocean Foundation comes into the drama.  

LOF’s work is bolstered by credentialed scientists who are experts in riparian ecosystems, tidewater wildlife, and marine habitats. This level of credibility explains why the Foundation has been successful at obtaining grants and public funding to further its work. Still, more financial resources are needed to bring the lagoon back to Laguna. I’ve met with board member Ed Almanza on several occasions to learn more about the ongoing estuary restoration project. Ed’s passion for this project and the other work of the Foundation is palpable and inspiring.

He told me that the latest plan for the estuary project will be unveiled at the Foundation’s 20th Anniversary Celebration, “Shimmering Night by the Sea,” Thursday, Oct. 26, from 6 to 8:30 p.m., at The Ocean Institute in Dana Point. This event is open to the public. Attendees will be treated to computer-generated illustrative drawings prepared by the site designers, SWA in Laguna Beach. To order your tickets, go to www.lagunaoceanfoundation.org. Whether or not you attend this celebratory event, I urge you to do what our family has done and donate to this LOF project that can potentially become a model for coastal California.

Let’s bring back the tidewater goby and the lagoon to Laguna!

Tom Osborne is an environmental historian, book author, and environmental activist. With his wife, Ginger, he co-leads the Laguna chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. [email protected].

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