Community Commentary

Environment Corner

Devastated and decimated by development, 95 percent of California’s coastal wetlands have been lost forever. Along with them, gone are habitat for endangered plants and animals, recreational opportunities for residents, and crucial ecosystem services such as flood and erosion control. San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve is one of the few surviving wetlands. A gem of biodiversity, it is home to more than 700 kinds of spectacularly beautiful birds, mammals, reptiles, insects, fish, trees, shrubs and flowers — some acutely threatened by extinction.
However, located between Encinitas to the north, Solana Beach to the south, and Rancho Santa Fe to the east, San Elijo Lagoon is still highly impacted. With a quarter million drivers barreling past the reserve every day on the interstate freeway that bisects its 1,000-acre area, and the mouth of the lagoon being narrowed and shut by the coast highway and train tracks, the habitat is fragmented. Water quality affected by runoff from surrounding development and exotic invasive plant species outcompeting native plants while providing little value to local wildlife, are but a few of the challenges San Elijo Lagoon faces. Its protection and preservation are more crucial today than ever. Hand in hand with that is education about its vital importance to the environmental health of Southern California.
As a steward of the ecological reserve, the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy has been working to protect, preserve and enhance the lagoon and its watershed since 1987, and is providing a vast range of public education programs and services.
The conservancy acquires and manages land to protect it, carries out large-scale habitat restoration programs, conducts scientific monitoring studies, and offers free guided nature walks and experiential learning activities to schools, colleges and the public.
Only 30 years ago an illegal dump and slated for development, San Elijo Lagoon was saved by a group of concerned citizens and has weathered many a storm since. Today, the reserve features North County’s first all-access coastal wetland trail, and a beautiful, new state-of-the-art nature center is open to the public free of charge seven days a week along Manchester Avenue in Cardiff-by-the-Sea.
The conservancy’s education programs provide ongoing activities for schools and other groups as well as guided walks for the public every Saturday starting at the nature center and every second Saturday of the month starting at the Rios Avenue trailhead in Solana Beach. Annually in the fall, docent training sessions, along with monthly docent activities, prepare volunteer naturalists to interpret the beauty and diversity of the lagoon to visitors, while monthly work parties offer opportunities for volunteers to assist in trail maintenance and habitat restoration activities. The conservancy plays a leadership role in environmental conservation even outside of the immediate boundaries of the reserve, conducting ongoing water monitoring and invasive plant removal programs in the 210 square mile Carlsbad Hydrologic Unit.
A lot has already been accomplished in the protection and enhancement of the lagoon, but a lot remains to be done. The future health of this precious place lies in the hands of its neighbors. As a community member, you can volunteer your time as a docent or during a volunteer work party, and you can contribute crucially important resources by joining the membership-based conservancy. Only together with the community can we provide the solutions necessary to ensure the fascinating diversity of the lagoon and its preservation for the enjoyment of future generations. We invite you to be a part of that solution.
For more information, please call (760) 436-3944 or visit

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