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Something to Rely On: Why Coastal Resiliency Matters

Conserving coastal ecosystems matters.

It matters to plants, wildlife, and humans. About 70 percent of Californians, and over 97 percent of people in the Baja California Peninsula live in coastal areas Ports as economic hubs, beach towns as tourism magnets, kelp beds as nurseries to fisheries—economically, we depend on coastal ecosystems. Dunes as storm surge guardians, estuaries as water pollution filters—environmentally, we depend on coastal ecosystems. And we aren’t alone. In the U.S., about 75 percent of endangered bird and mammal species depend on coastal ecosystems too.  

With so much riding on coastal ecosystems, it is no wonder that coastal resiliency has become a global priority for government agencies and conservation groups alike. But what is coastal resiliency?  

Coastal resiliency is the capacity for communities and ecosystems to bounce back from human and natural disturbances. It's healthy dunes protecting beach towns from king tides. It's thriving estuaries and wetlands that support wildlife, while reducing flood risk. With so much at stake, our scientists are working together more and more with other researchers, government agencies, and nonprofits to better understand and improve coastal resiliency in our region. 


This spring, our scientists kicked off an ecosystem health assessment of two large coastal lagoons in Baja California: Bahía de Todos Santos and Bahía de San Quintín. Primarily funded by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the JiJi Foundation, the study focuses on population status and genetic health of the endangered Ridgway rail, and includes hydrological studies and ecosystem-level assessments of birds, mammals, reptiles, plants, and invertebrates. It is a huge project involving researchers from multiple organizations like Terra Peninsular, Southern California Coastal Water Research Project, University of Idaho, Fauna del Noroeste, U.S. Geological Service, and The Nat. Ultimately, this research will advance conservation of these ecologically and economically important lagoons.

This year also marked a milestone in our long-term dune insect study along the Baja California Peninsula. Nat researchers and our partners in Mexico just concluded a yearlong insect assessment of the glorious dunes of Punto Mazo near San Quintín. This work is critical to understanding short-term patterns of dune biodiversity and will be used to propose conservation priorities for governmental or private dune protection throughout the peninsula. 

To truly study coastal resilience, it’s important to look upstream. That means studying waterways from their mountainous headwaters to their coastal wetlands. This year, our Herpetology Department kicked off a population study of arroyo toads. Though endangered in both the U.S. and Mexico, the U.S. is considering downlisting the species. This is partly due to the presumed—but unverified—wellbeing of the toad populations in Mexico. Yet, our ongoing conservation work with the California red-legged frog has revealed that amphibians in our binational region are still at risk due to issues that extend beyond an individual frog pond, such as flooding, drought, and invasive species.

This research will have direct implications on the conservation status of the arroyo toad, but will also shine a light on the ecosystem health of the watersheds that feed our coastal wetlands.

Beaches, sunsets, and surfing are the postcard version of our regional cultural identity, but it is the surrounding kelp beds, dunes, and wetlands that are our environmental protectors and economic drivers. Through collaborative research and education, The Nat continues to improve our understanding of coastal ecosystems so that we may better conserve these precious resources so fundamental to our communities. 

Related stories:

This Wild Life: California's Favorite Frogs—Where Are They Now?

Conserving the Dunes of Baja California

Four Ways Climate Change is Affecting Local Wildlife

Posted by Michael Wall, Former Director of Research and Conservation/Curator of Entomology.

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