Ballona Marshes Growing On Various Marsh Plants:

Genuine Restoration Involves Knowledge from 100 Years Ago For Recovery of Rare Species
Such As Belding's Savannah Sparrow and Salt Marsh Dodder Ecological Interactions

by Robert Roy van de Hoek, 2003
With LeRoy Abrams, 1903

In 1903, LeRoy Abrams observed Salt Marsh Dodder growing on several wetland indicator plants at the Ballona Marsh at Playa del Rey, California. The title of this article, "Ballona Marshes Growing On Various Marsh Plants" is the exact quote by LeRoy Abrams in 1903, in a scientific article. Interestingly, the article was published in the new scientific journal of the Southern California Academy of Sciences, chaired by the two botanists and naturalists named Anstruther Davidson and Louis Greata. The Bulletin of the Southern Califiornia Academy of Sciences remains, of which I am a member, continues to be an important journal that contributes to an understanding of the flora and fauna of southern California.

The scientific methods utilized the classic early articles from the scientific literature, as well as visits to the varioius herbaria where Cuscuta salina, Salt Marsh Dodder, are vouchered, and several research field trips to the various coastal wetlands of southern California. Observations in the field and the literature regarding bird and mammal ecology as it relates to Salt Marsh Dodder were also investigated.

From 1903 to 2003 is 100 years of elapsed time. A century ago, Salt Marsh Dodder was common and spread over many marsh plants. Now in 2003, Salt Marsh Dodder is extinct at the Ballona marsh and wetlands. Why? There are two reasons, first the birds and mammals that once dispersed the seeds of the Salt Marsh Dodder are now extinct or virtually extinct. Secondly, the Ballona has become to saline to the point of becoming hypersaline, and increasing the tidal flow at the existing tide gate has exasperated the sitation in this regard. In contrast, the constraint and lack of freshwater blanketing the Ballona wetlands has left them too saline for Salt Marsh Dodder to exist. As an example of the fauna - flora linkage as an ecological synergy, one rare bird, now on the government's list as endangered with extinction on Earth, the Belding's Savannah Sparrow, which still barely holds on at the Ballona wetlands, is no longer able to feed on the Salt Marsh Dodder seeds and consequently, this sparrow cannot disperse the seeds to new locations via defecation of seeds. Genuine restoration and recovery of the Belding's Savannah Sparrow would involve restoration and recovery of the Saltmarsh Dodder. It also explains in part, why the Belding's Savannah Sparrow cannot expand its small population of approximately 10 breeding males, even though there are more males, and many females available for breeding. The research shows that night lighting and road noise along Culver Boulevard by automobile headlights and from the apartments on Vista Del Mar Avenue, in conjunction with the absence of Salt Marsh Dodder, in a complex ecological synergy, constricts and prevents the expansion of Belding's Savannah Sparrows into new breeding locations nearer to Culver Boulevard. Of lesser importance, but contributing somewhat to this complex ecological picture, is the presence of the Red Fox, brought here from Europe, and the absence of the Coyote. In summary, restoration and recovery of the Coyote, elimination of the Red Fox, reduciton in noise and lights by barriers on Culver Boulevard, more freshwater spread blanketing seasonally the salt marsh, and of course, restoration of the Salt Marsh Dodder, but no increased tidal flow, will increase the survival chances for the Belding's Savannah Sparrow

by Robert 'Roy' van de Hoek, Field Biologist & Geographer
Discovering this scientific article on Los Angeles County, which is largely focused on Ballona wetlands and the adjoining sand dunes, presents us with knowledge and power about restoration, recovery of lost species, and genuine conservation of the southern California coast with its dynamic wetlands, praire meadows, and sand dunes. LeRoy Abrams' five year project of studying the flora of southern California from 1898 to 1903, resulted in a significant book called Flora of Los Angeles and Vicinity. His many field notebooks curated at the museum are invaluable, especially if used in conjunction with his book and published articles such as the one presented above. Genuine restoration, genuine recovery, and genuine conservation, are all possible with the aid of the valuable contributions of LeRoy Abrams, especially in southern California.

Most definitely, we can learn what genuine restoration is for the Ballona wetlands, Inglewood, and the sand dunes from Ballona to Redondo if we conduct a careful perusal and recover the plants listed in the writings and journals of LeRoy Abrams. In essence, we can restore the Ballona wetlands and Ballona Sand Dunes to what they were a century ago in 1903, when this article was originally published.

One of the first restoration recovery projects that needs to be completed at the Ballona wetlands is to bring back the Salt Marsh Dodder. At Malibu Lagoon, a large population of thousands of individual Salt Marsh Dodder plants live healthfully on various marsh plants. Malibu Lagoon is the closest and most logical location from which to obtain Salt Marsh Dodder for restoration and recovery at Ballona wetlands. For both ecological and evolutionary reasons, including genetics, Malibu Lagoon is the source needed for Salt Marsh Dodder. Interestingly, all of these Salt Marsh Dodder are slated for destruction at Malibu Lagoon as a large dredging and filling project is being proposed under the guise of restoration. If this terrible project were to happen, what will happen to the Salt Marsh Dodder and the many kinds of salt marsh plants on which it lives. In this negative scenario of destruction, one possible restoration and recovery scenario would be to transplant the thousands of Salt Marsh Dodder and its host plants to the Ballona wetlands in Area A and Area C, and parts of the eastern portion of Area B. A better solution would to be Malibu Lagoon intact as it is now, and use the plants of Malibu Lagoon as a source nursery for the restoration of Ballona. In essence, the scientific narrative that I have written, begins to show the importance of the connection and links of Malibu Lagoon and Ballona wetlands with each other. Perhaps, we had better rethink the two ongoing restoration planning efforts not as separate projects, but merge them together as the Ballona - Malibu R&R Project, with R&R indicating Restoration and Recovery. To this scientist, at least, we may be about to boch two very fine wetland ecosystems that have established new ecological equilibria over the last 50 years. Acquisition of more land adjacent to these two ecosystems is more important spending large sums of money on restoration. Community restoration by volunteers on a low budget involving citizen scientists rather than high-paid engineering consultants is the best approach to restoration at Ballona wetlands and Malibu Lagoon, while the dollars be used in campaigns to acquire the adjoining lands and perhaps utilize some of the money for acquisition itself. Some of the top wetland scientists of the United States recognize that acquisition of more wetland, wetland transition lands, and upland are needed to make the current wetland ecosystems viable and richer in biodiversity.