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Nature takes spotlight in inaugural biodiversity count

CARDIFF-BY-THE-SEA — Scientists and nature enthusiasts gathered for the first BioBlitz on May 16
as part of the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy’s annual Lagoon Day.
Beginning May 15 at 3 p.m., scientists scrambled to count as many species as possible within a 24-hour time period. Experts from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD and UC Santa Barbara, Cal State San Marcos and the San Diego Natural History Museum gathered data and in some cases actual specimens of plant and animal life in the San Elijo Lagoon Reserve.
The research provides a baseline for scientists to understand the ecosystem better according to experts. Barry Lindgren, a water quality specialist for the conservancy, said the lagoon will be restored and that the current status is important to calculate. “These numbers will go into the environmental impact report,” he said.
The public and scientists converged on the new San Elijo Nature Center on Manchester Avenue to survey the findings and participate in a variety of family-friendly activities.
Besides the usual face painting and crafts, children were encouraged to make their own animal tracks and identify those on display. “I saw real mountain lion footprints,” exclaimed 5-year-old Devon Simpson. The Carlsbad kindergartener said he would be looking out for them now. “I don’t think he’s been this excited about anything,” his mother Pat Simpson said.
Scientists were excited, too. A species of a flowering plant called “everlasting” was discovered in the area along with four species of bat that had not been seen in the lagoon before the event. “It’s incredible that so many people worked on this in such a short amount of time and got a lot of results,” Kimberly Cohen, a UCSD student, said.
The natural habitat in the 885-acre reserve, which extends south to Solana Beach from its northern border in Encinitas, was readily accessible to many new visitors. “I’ve never even been through the trails until today,” Leucadia resident Dan Bickman said. “I came because I saw the crowd and wanted to know what was going on.”
The center hopes to attract more regular visitors to its state-of-the-art nature center. The county built the center using local, state and federal funds, including a $300,000 grant from County Supervisor Pam Slater-Price’s office. A park ranger will continue to staff the center while the county maintains the building and immediately surrounding grounds and parking lot.
In agreement with the county, the conservancy operates educational tours from the center with help from volunteer docents. The center boasts several innovative environmental features and educational displays.
Electricity is generated by solar panels, cotton insulation is made from the fibers of old blue jeans and rubber from recycled tires waterproof the roof while recycled water irrigates rooftop plants.
“I hope this event keeps the excitement and enthusiasm of the community going,” Cohen said. “We don’t have a lot of natural habitat left and the lagoon is a very special place.”