SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. – The UC Santa Barbara Natural Reserve System held a docent training on Wednesday morning where volunteers were trained on how to help fellow community members protect the Snowy Plover bird population at Coal Oil Point Reserve adjacent to the UCSB campus.
The Western Snowy Plover is a shorebird that lives at the beaches stretching between Isla Vista and Ellwood. The birds are listed as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act due to declining populations, and the stretch of beaches where they live is designated as "critical habitat," according to UCSB Natural Reserve System officials.
"Coal Oil Point Reserve, with its sandy beach, sand dunes, and adjacent estuary mouth is one of a few choices west coast locations where Snowy Plovers can still breed and thrive," officials said. "With public education and symbolic fences, the plovers at Coal Oil Point Reserve made a comeback. "
Coal Oil Point Reserve became the first site that lost its Snowy Plover breeding population entirely for multiple decades before recovering the population its population through conservation measures. The site now averages more than 30 fledged chicks per year, officials said.
To ensure that the public doesn't disrupt the birds' habitat with foot traffic, portions of the beach are closed to keep people out of the main nesting area.
"The nests are well camouflaged and, without the fence, could be trampled by beach users unknowingly," officials said. "The fence is symbolic because it depends on voluntary compliance for no-trespassing."
The fence does not stop dogs or pets from running in the area, so the Natural Reserve System asks pet owners to keep their animals on leashes at all times.
The volunteer docents help with the preservation efforts and were trained on Wednesday to learn how to ensure that the protected areas are free from trespassing and off-leash dogs. The volunteers will spend two hours a week on Sands Beach teaching visitors about the threatened status of the Western Snowy Plover and asking beachgoers to leash their pets and avoid sensitive habitats.
The training focused on the ecology of the bird species, its habitat needs, and successful strategies for communicating with the public.
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