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Friday, November 16, 2012

20,000 Native Plants Grown on Anacapa Island!

Over 20,000 native plants of 30 species, were grown on East Anacapa Island since CIR and the National Park Service (NPS) constructed a nursery there in 2010.  During 2011-12, NPS and CIR staff eradicated 25 acres of non-native iceplant, and volunteers hand-cleared a further 4 acres of iceplant.  Native plants have been planted on approximately x39 acres of the islet.  Nearly 1,400 CIR volunteers contributed over 11,000 hours to this effort.  Conservative amounts of water are being applied to the plantings through a system of ¾” black irrigation tubing which now delivers water to far flung locations on the island, including to Inspiration Point.  With this system, we no longer use valuable volunteers hours backpacking water to planting sites. This tremendous effort has been accomplished with the help of individual volunteers, school groups, corporations and community groups.

Anacapa Island provides critical habitat for seabirds, pinnipeds and several endemic plants and animals.  It is home to 16 plants endemic to the California Channel Islands, two of which are unique to Anacapa.   Anacapa’s dense vegetation was once dominated by the showy plants giant coreopsis, gumplant, island tarweed, live-forever, Santa Cruz Island buckwheat, sagebrush, saltbush, lemonade berry and island mallow, which provided shelter, perches and nesting habitat for seabirds and land birds.  Their large quantities of seeds provided abundant food for the endemic Anacapa deer mouse, and for many small birds. 

The island’s stands of giant coreopsis, as well as all the other plants of its coastal bluff community, were devastated by sheep grazing (up until the early 1900s) rabbit browsing through the 1950s and by large-scale destruction of native vegetation during construction and manning of the Coast Guard Light Station in the 1930s to 1960s.  Only small patches of native plants remained.  The United States Coast Guard planted two types of iceplant around their facilities, with the idea of erosion control and ornamentation  Iceplant is highly invasive, and spread to cover an estimated 30 acres of the islet.  


Small-scale eradication of iceplant in the vicinity of the buildings began in the late 1980s, done by Anacapa Ranger and Maintenance staff.  In 1993, Sarah Chaney, a restoration ecologist with Channel Islands National Park, began working with volunteers and researchers to expand iceplant removal to the rest of the island, and by 2010, about 14 acres of iceplant had been cleared.   October 2011 saw the commencement of intensive iceplant removal, with the receipt of the first of three years of National Park Service funding for iceplant eradication. At the end of 2010, Channel Islands Restoration helped fund and construct a native plant nursery on the island in partnership with the NPS.  Channel Islands National Park operation funds have supported the nursery improvements and upkeep since then. The Ventura County Master Gardeners along with many other volunteers have grown an impressive 20,000 plants in the nursery since that time.  These include giant coreopsis, California barley, purple needlegrass, gum plant, alkali-heath and many others—thirty species, to date.

Several groups helped plant the natives in areas where the iceplant has been eradicated, including nearly 1,400 CIR volunteers.  Most of the work occurs on Wednesdays, when the NPS boat makes regular visits to the island.  CIR staff recruit the volunteers, meet them at the NPS headquarters and escort them to the island and to the worksites.  Several corporations have volunteered for the project, including REI, Deckers Outdoors, Amgen, Horny Toad and Citrix Online.  Non-profit organizations also participated, including the Santa Barbara Zoo, the California Native Plant Society and Santa Barbara Audubon Society.  In addition to planting the natives, volunteers helped to remove iceplant seedlings from among native plants, collect seeds of native plants for propagation and provide precious and essential water to the plantings throughout their first year. 

The water supply for the island is delivered by NPS boat once a year, at great expense, so water conservation is vital.  To provide for watering plantings without depleting the domestic water supply, NPS staff and CIR volunteers installed rain barrels to collect rainwater from the roofs of several of the buildings.  The large concrete rainwater catchment basin installed by the Coast Guard in the 1930s is again collecting rainwater (now used for plant irrigation) thanks to the work of NPS staff.  Current rainwater storage capacity is 2100 gallons, with plan to expand this capacity this year.  A temporary system of ¾” black plastic irrigation tubing now delivers the water by gravity, assisted by a small pump, to the planting locations throughout the islet.  The strenuous and time-consuming backpacking of water to plants is no longer needed!

Through inspired partnerships and lots of combined effort, the NPS, CIR and many, many volunteers have changed the face of East Anacapa Island.  Formerly the bright red flowers of the non-native, invasive iceplant would color much of the landscape. This year, the landscape was colored bright yellow by the flowers of the native plants like giant coreopsis, gumplant and island tarweed.  Western gull chicks that were formerly exposed to predators and the elements on a low, flat, open iceplant landscape, were instead able to find refuge among  the varied structures of the taller native plants that were grown and planted by volunteers.  Volunteers of all ages obtained a new understanding of this rare island habitat and gained a valuable education of the importance of habitat restoration.  The work continues into 2013 and beyond.

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