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Monday, February 24, 2014

Anacapa in the New Year: 2014 Changes and Challenges





Since last summer, in the wake of a tragic accident, the number of volunteers who can be accommodated on the National Park Service boats has been greatly reduced, for safety. These volunteers generally need to have had some previous experience boarding and debarking small boats, and must be able to demonstrate the motor skills, balance and physical confidence needed to do this safely.  As a result of the reduction in passenger capacity, CIR’s volunteer program on Anacapa has needed to transition to smaller groups and less-frequent trips, with priority given to experienced volunteers.  We are planning to offer alternate transportation options to accommodate more volunteers in the future.


After three years of concerted effort, restoration and recovery of East Anacapa Island has progressed very well, in spite of the continuing drought.  There are no more acres of dense iceplant to pull and haul away!  Instead, we are now doing more specialized work, concentrating on eradicating multitudes of small iceplant seedlings, while also observing and sparing seedlings of native plants emerging from carpets of dead iceplant. We continue to produce native plants in the island nursery, and plant them in place of iceplant, limited only, again, by lack of water.  From November 2012-October 2013, we planted over 11,000 plants!  So far, our nursery production has focused primarily on native plants that grow quickly to produce cover, and that tolerate exposed, salty conditions.  Now we are able to add nectar and larval food plants to the palette, as we broaden our restoration goals to re-establish natural habitat structure and food webs. 

On December 8th, CIR volunteers from REI spent a day helping with the Anacapa restoration project.  Employees from both the Santa Barbara and Oxnard stores put nearly 300 plants in the ground!  Their trip was, surprisingly, CIR’s only Anacapa volunteer trip throughout December into January, as adverse marine conditions, park operations, and the holiday season precluded additional trips.  To prepare for their arrival, CIR field staff Aaron Echols and volunteer John Reyes worked on Anacapa for several days, joined briefly by volunteer work leader, Mike Buratti.  Together they planted, watered, and repaired damage to the shade house, caused by high winds.  Aaron and John continued by scouting areas for additional plantings, and auguring and staking hundreds of holes to facilitate the volunteer planting day.


California brown pelicans nesting on Anacapa Island
(Photo taken by permission, by a monitoring biologist)
Aaron remains heavily involved in the island’s habitat restoration.  He directs volunteer field leaders, and oversees occasional NPS volunteer groups.  He keeps the irrigation system maintained and operational, makes repairs, assembles shade screens, and continues to keep invasive species at bay.  In late January, Aaron even discovered a new weed species Urtica urens on the North side of the Anacapa lighthouse trail, taking a herbarium sample for the Park’s assessment.

Meanwhile, CIR’s volunteer trips to Anacapa on the park boat resumed in February.  In 2014, we will now recruit handfuls of experienced volunteers for the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays of each month.  Additionally, CIR has received numerous trip requests from volunteer groups.  There are already a few calendared this Spring, with a few more in the works!  Student groups, Rotary groups, and corporate groups are all interested in helping to restore Anacapa, and volunteer trips are being planned with Island Packers transportation.

CIR also plans to offer Anacapa restoration trips on Island Packers!  While involving a trip fee, these trips would be open to our ever-growing volunteer list, and they would occur on weekends—something our volunteers have been requesting for years!  Weekend trips would allow more volunteers the opportunity to experience the satisfaction and fulfillment in helping restore Anacapa’s precious, unique natural habitat.



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