Our North County coastal wetlands, watersheds and lagoons

Imaginary lines drawn on a map do not divide North Coastal San Diego communities; the lagoons that run west to east from the coastline delineate our maps. A lagoon is a shallow body of coastal water, partially blocked from flowing freely into the sea. These wetlands are vital ecosystems for hundreds of native organisms and migrating birds. They also provide recreational and educational opportunities including nature centers, hiking and bird watching.
San Diego’s coastal lagoons are the endpoint of vast watersheds that drain water from inland streams, rivers, lakes and reservoirs. Precipitation flows downhill toward the ocean, all the while, erosion and the deposit of sediments shape the watershed. The ever-changing ocean tides push seawater upstream during high tide and drain the freshwater during low tide.
Buena Vista Lagoon parts Oceanside from Carlsbad. Batiquitos Lagoon flows between Carlsbad and Encinitas. San Elijo Lagoon separates Cardiff-by-the-Sea and Solana Beach. San Dieguito Lagoon splits Solana Beach and Del Mar. Los Peñasquitos Marsh Natural Preserve separates Del Mar from Torrey Pines. Lagoons have had an important impact on human endeavors and humans have certainly had an impact on the well-being of the lagoons.
All of the lagoons exist in differing, fluctuating states of their natural selves.
San Dieguito Lagoon accommodates the fairgrounds and racetrack. A large restoration project is under way using environmental reparation money from San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, or SONGS, the giant concrete domes off Interstate 5 on the north end of Camp Pendleton.
San Elijo Lagoon remains a well-protected and relatively natural habitat, thanks to efforts from the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy, the San Diego County Department of Parks and Recreation and the California Department of Fish and Game. However, the San Elijo Lagoon Restoration Project is in the preliminary stages with a goal, “To protect, restore, and then maintain, via adaptive management, the San Elijo Lagoon ecosystem and adjacent uplands.” Public hearings were held this week, with more planned.
According to Jennifer Miller, supervising park ranger at the San Elijo Lagoon, “The mixture of salt and freshwater, known as brackish water, leads to great biodiversity.
Plants and animals have adapted to survive in certain ranges of salinity that exist as the tide drops in and out of the lagoon.” Escondido Creek provides San Elijo Lagoon freshwater as it flows from Lake Wohlford through the San Elijo Lagoon and then out to sea. Native Americans lived off the lagoon biodiversity for thousands of years.
In the summer, 100 species of birds are found in San Elijo Lagoon, a world-renowned area for bird watching. In the winter, an extra 200 species of birds stop to rest and fuel up in the lagoon as they migrate between points far south and far north. Three hundred different bird species can exist within these 1,000 acres!
Three hundred species of plants, 20 species of fish, 16 reptiles/amphibians, 26 mammals and 80 invertebrates all add greatly to the biodiversity of San Elijo Lagoon.
Many of these species are considered sensitive or endangered. These varied organisms inhabit various ecosystems within the lagoon, from the coastal strand to Rancho Santa Fe including: salt and freshwater marshes, riparian, coastal sage scrub and chaparral.
The health of this wetland is about much more than just a place to take a walk with pretty vistas.
The San Elijo Lagoon, and all of our wetlands for that matter, is intricately tied to all of our ecosystems.


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