Environmentalists Protect Bolsa Chica Wetlands

Birds Flock to Huntington Beach Safe Haven

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Written by SurfWriter Girls Sunny Magdaug and Patti Kishel

Now that summer’s here and surfers and sun worshipers are heading to Surf City to enjoy the beach vibe, migrating birds are coming, too – from their winter homes in the southern region to the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.


The Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach – designated by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife as a protected coastal wetland – is a local treasure.


SurfWriter Girls Sunny Magdaug and Patti Kishel talked to Joe Shaw, President of the Bolsa Chica Land Trust and Huntington Beach’s Mayor Pro Tem, about the importance of maintaining Bolsa Chica in its natural state…something that can be challenging in an era of beachside property development.

S P.Joe Shaw

“The Bolsa Chica Land Trust is pleased that the Ridge Project – a proposal to build 22 houses on the Bolsa Chica Mesa – was withdrawn,” Shaw said.

More than a place of natural beauty, Bolsa Chica, which means “little pocket” in Spanish, is a sanctuary for migrating birds and provides a tranquil habitat for hundreds of species of wildlife.


Among the birds and various wildlife seeking shelter in Bolsa Chica are the snowy plover, savannah sparrow, least tern, Caspian tern, great blue heron, snowy egret, red-tailed hawk, and great horned owl, along with cottontail rabbits, ground squirrels, coyotes and other animals.

Reddish Egret

red tailed hawk

In the wetlands birds can rest on their long journeys and also have a safe place to breed, nest, and rear their young.

burrowing owl

bird feeding bird.nest cam

Without these pit stops along the way, migrating birds become exhausted and disoriented, unable to reach their destinations and even dying for lack of food, water and shelter.

bolsaChicaReserve from sea

An oasis of primitive beauty in an urban setting, the 1,700-acre Bolsa Chica preserve wouldn’t exist today if it weren’t for the efforts of community volunteers and environmental groups, none more supportive than the Bolsa Chica Land Trust.

BC land trust emblem

For over 20 years the Land Trust has been working to protect all of Bolsa Chica’s mesas and wetlands.


“Our mission is the preservation of the entire eco-system,” Kim Kolpin, Executive Director of the Land Trust, told SurfWriter Girls.


In 1997 the Land Trust was instrumental in saving 921 acres of wetlands.

Since 2004 the Land Trust has been involved in the ongoing process of restoring the wetlands.


Joe Shaw explained to SurfWriter Girls, “We are doing probably the most important work now…fighting for the last two jewels of undeveloped land at Bolsa Chica.”

Through its Bolsa Chica Legacy Campaign, the Bolsa Chica Land Trust is working to save from development the wetlands’ Sacred Cogged Stone Site, an area that was once a village and a cemetery of an ancient civilization.


“We are working diligently with a number of sources including the City of Huntington Beach to acquire the land and save it in perpetuity for the people of Huntington Beach and Southern California,” Shaw stated.

Important for more than its ecological aspects, Bolsa Chica is thought to have major archaeological significance. Its cogged stones – over 500 of them – are a mystery that could be linked to similar sites discovered in Chile over 9,000 years ago.


Researchers are eager to discover the true meaning of these cogged stones and what they represented to the early cultures that created them. Some researchers have speculated that the stones served a utilitarian purpose, while others think that they probably were used in religious ceremonies.

cogstones group

Archaeologist Brian Fagan says of the site: “What is preserved here is a unique record of low-key adaptations to a challenging, ever-changing coastal world over 9,000 years.” In Fagan’s view, “This record is just as much a part of the common cultural heritage of humankind as the Pantheon or the first Chinese emperor’s terracotta regiment – and to California just as important.”

Fagan book

By saving the undeveloped parcels in Bolsa Chica, we and future generations will be able to learn more about the stones and to preserve this connection with our past. “This 9000 year-old sacred site can teach us a lot about how the Native Americans lived in harmony at the wetlands,” Shaw said.

To understand what makes these wetlands so special, you really have to see them for yourself.


For an even closer view, the Bolsa Chica Land Trust installed a Nest Cam that provides a 24/7 live stream video of the remote nesting areas of two of the endangered bird species on the site – the California least tern and the western snowy plover.

Nest cam

To the casual observer Bolsa Chica’s raw landscape, dotted with scrub brush and wildflowers, might not seem important, especially when compared to million dollar homes and luxury resorts. But, to migrating birds it’s a lifeline on their journeys home.



Huntington Beach City Council Member Connie Boardman knows how important this is. In addition to serving on the Land Trust, she is a biology professor at Cerritos College and brings a scientist’s eye to the wetlands. Viewing them as an essential part of our natural environment, she explains this to the students in her classes.


Through the Land Trust’s Bolsa Chica Stewards and Junior Stewards programs volunteers can get involved in helping to educate the public about the need to protect this vital coastal land.


On a bright Saturday morning SurfWriter Girls Sunny and Patti talked to volunteers who were working to restore the wetlands – removing invasive plants and planting drought-tolerant, native vegetation.

bolsaChicaReserve restoration

Jeff Rokos, who has been a Steward for 16 years, likes volunteering because it “gives me a chance to get my hands in the dirt and help out.”


Everyone was excited about being able to safeguard this unspoiled stretch of land and maintain a key link in the birds’ migration route.


A long-time sponsor of the non-profit Surfrider Foundation, the Bolsa Chica Land Trust shares its mission of protecting our oceans, waves and beaches –

SRF and BC St. Beach

whether it’s a top surfing spot…or a “little pocket” where birds can rest.

burrowing owl in home

Surf’n Beach Scene Magazine

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