Low dissolved oxygen levels put stress on marine life in Malibu Lagoon, state officials say. Some conservationists counter that the ecosystem is functioning.
A long-planned but controversial restoration project will begin on Friday in Malibu Lagoon, but its opponents are still trying to find ways to stop it.
In some ways, the fight's been brewing for decades. Thirty years ago, dredging shaped the Malibu Lagoon and its channels as they look today. The goal was wetlands restoration, but it didn’t work. The Santa Monica Bay Restoration Project’s Shelly Luce says that this week, the lagoon will get a do-over: “We will be relocating native plants that are going to be saved and replanted after the project is done,” Luce says. “Also relocating any sensitive fish and mammal and lizard species that need to be carefully moved out of the path of the project.”
Later, public agencies will use bulldozers to create one large channel that allows more water to flow in and out.
An appeals court last week rejected a last-minute plea to prevent public agencies from beginning a Malibu Lagoon restoration project. A group called the Wetlands Defense Fund is still suing to block the project from starting. Luce says a state court judge will permit the legal challenge, but won’t stop the restoration work. “This decision means that there was no merit for that request for an injunction,” Luce says. “What it means is that the project will go forward as planned on June first. And we are very excited about that.”
Heal the Bay, California State Parks officials, other scientists and agencies agree with Luce that the lagoon’s brackish water is a sign of poor water quality. They say the restoration could benefit swimmers and surfers nearby. “I think a lot of people have a good understanding of the fact that the lagoon is sick and needs help,” she says.
Not Marcia Hanscom: “Right now it is so beautiful," she counters.
Hanscom is with the Wetlands Defense Fund. An environmentalist and naturalist, she says dragonflies, birds and other wild species thrive in the lagoon right now.
“It’s just unbelievable to me that these agencies can say with a straight face we’re not going to harm any of these species,” she says, “and yet we’re doing to dam off dredge and drain the entire lagoon.”
The city of Malibu has sided with Hanscom’s group in recent months. It opposes the project on the grounds that it will, in fact, worsen water quality. The state attorney general’s office has dismissed that concern as alarmist. But lagoon restoration has become an issue in a Westside state assembly race.
Hanscom and her allies are taking pictures and documenting breeding and nesting activity in the area. “There are some laws that are supposed to protect the wildlife related to those [activities],” Hanscom says. “And we’ll be going to some of the agencies that are charged with making sure those things are upheld and we’ll see where it goes.” She says the Wetlands Defense Center and its allies are still exploring legal options.
State parks officials say they’re ready to proceed with wildlife relocation and restoration, and they’ll call in other agencies for support if they have to.