Los Angeles County has commissioned a Conservation and Management Plan for Marina del Rey in response to the Marina Local Coastal Program (LCP) Periodic Review findings and recommendations made by the California Coastal Commission.

A presentation of the plan was made by Robert Hamilton of Hamilton Biological, Inc. and Daniel S. Cooper of Cooper Ecological Monitoring, Inc. to the Marina del Rey Design Control Board at its meeting Wednesday, March 17th.

The county’s responses to the LCP Periodic Review are due in April to the Coastal Commission and this report would directly assess the potential need for an environmentally sensitive habitat area (ESHA), which has been a contentious point for local residents because the certified LCP of 1996 doesn’t include an ESHA designation or language.

CONSERVATION AND MANAGEMENT PLAN FOR MARINA DEL REY—

The plan is still in its drafting phase and not available for distribution, but Cooper and Hamilton presented overall element information to the Design Control Board.

Cooper said the county is presenting an overview of nesting water birds in Marina del Rey, including herons, egrets and cormorants.

Historically, there are a lot of records of wintering and migrant colonial water birds in the Marina del Rey area and marshes, but he and Hamilton haven’t been able to find records of nesting birds, with part of the reason being that the area was characterized by low vegetation, mud flats, marshes and coastal scrub, habitats that aren’t typically used by tree-nesting herons and cormorants, he said.

“In my studies since 2003 in this area, we’ve really found very few records of nesting by tree-dwelling birds at all in the Marina area; mostly birds in grassland, marsh and scrubs, and birds like woodpeckers are still very rare in the area,” Cooper said.

This began to change in the 1990s, Cooper said, noting that there are now nesting water birds.

“Now there’s basically a constant turnover in the nesting birds of the area, with waves of extinction and colonization. Early on, birds of the beaches, dunes and freshwater marshes were lost because these habitats were lost early and marshes were drained for agriculture and flood control,” explained Cooper.

These were followed by local waves of extinction by salt marsh birds, and then finally another local extinction of grassland birds, he said.

“When I say extinction, I mean from the local area. They’re not gone from the earth,” said Cooper.

A lot of these birds are still common in the San Jacinto Valley and Imperial Valley areas. During the 1990s, there was an arrival of tree-nesting birds as the trees around the Marina matured.

These included herons and cormorants, and Cooper said, “the phenomenon of herons nesting is something we’re seeing all along the coast of California.”

There are currently many active water bird colonies in Los Angeles County, such as in Whittier Narrows and the Sepulveda Basin, among others. These birds are no longer considered an endangered species, as there has been a lot of protection enforcement in the last ten years, he said.

Cooper said that key areas for nesting water birds in Marina del Rey are near the water. Admiralty Way is one of the largest areas with roughly 70 nests of two or three species nesting in the eucalyptus, ficus and other trees around the parking lots just east of Oxford Basin. While Oxford Basin still has water quality issues, it is considered an important foraging area for the birds nesting nearby, he said.

Another key area is Marquesas Way, where melaleuca trees support black-crowned night herons.

Across the channel mouth is the Villa Venetia area with cormorants and great blue herons nesting in the cypress trees. The trees are dying from the bird guano, which makes large areas of the parking lot unusable, Cooper said. The birds fly back and forth, using the freshwater marsh at Del Rey Lagoon, but they nest in the Marina, he said.

Cormorants, egrets and herons are currently thriving in the Marina and are at relatively high levels for Los Angeles County, he explained.

The birds “should be given the opportunity to continue to occur as long as their presence is compatible with the usage of the Marina by humans,” said Cooper.

He noted that the colonies are not stagnant and it is important that surveys are done on the birds’ movement every year.

“Because of this nomadism we should probably consider every tree in the Marina beltway to be potentially able to support nesting habits, but that doesn’t mean every tree in the Marina is important for nesting herons. We should just be aware that these birds like trees, and if there are trees near water, which we’re surrounded by, there’s a possibility that a heron would nest there,” Cooper said.

Cooper said every colony is different and should be dealt with on an individual basis.

“We’re actually recommending against installing artificial nest structures,” he said. “It was discussed over the past few years as a mitigation for the potential loss of some of these nests.”

Cooper told the audience that one of the few, and largest, colonies of the California least tern is at Venice Beach, north of the Marina del Rey Harbor.

“We also have the potential for conflict with human visitors to the Marina, and we have to figure out a way to live with these birds,” said Cooper.

The county is recommending against replacing nesting trees with new nesting trees, allowing “nature to take its course,” where possible, he said.

Cooper and Hamilton propose an annual review of all the trees in Marina del Rey.

Birds nest around food sources, such as the bait tanks by Oxford Basin. The birds seem to have adapted well to the area and it’s a good idea to collect more observational evidence, he said.

Asked if they are not supportive of designating the Marina area as an environmentally sensitive habitat, Cooper and Hamilton said they don’t believe it satisfies the criteria in the California Coastal Act.

The study is expected to be available on the Beaches and Harbors Web site late this month at http://beaches.co.la.ca.us/BandH/Main.htm/.

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