• 'Where Have All the (Malibu Lagoon) Wildlife Gone?' •
BY ANNE SOBLE
The Malibu Lagoon has been the subject of some of this newspaper's most beautiful wildlife front covers. Whether its inhabitants were four-footed or winged, the lagoon provided an opportunity for close contact with nature that was accessible to people of all ages and physical abilities.
Not surprisingly, one of my personal concerns when it was announced that part of the lagoon would be dramatically altered was how wildlife would be handled to assure the least amount of stress and mortality. When I inquired about procedures to ensure the wildlife survival as the planned construction work progressed, I was assured that trapping and relocation were carefully thought out.
Still, I couldn't shake wondering whether this meant animals were all sent an official memo so they could pack up and leave before the work crews came. In keeping with the Disney-esque design of the new lagoon structures, were we supposed to envision all of the critters sitting around in a circle discussing evacuation strategy while "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" played in the background?
I was again less than assured when I watched volunteers play a game of "Hold that Lizard" that reminded me of giddy grade-schoolers at a grunion run. Those of us who have to regularly remove lizards from our living rooms may do a better job of netting them and putting them outside safely than appeared to be the case that day.
I was perturbed when I asked the senior environmental scientist and project spokesperson for California State Parks if I could accompany a relocation sortie from the lagoon to public lands where animals were being taken.
"We would rather not do that," was the terse reply, accompanied by even more assurances that all of the evicted were being moved to the same exact habitat they had. But wasn't Malibu Lagoon its own unique ecosystem?
Imagine the additional surprise when I asked for a catch count and was told it was "50 voles and about 100 lizards." That was it? No other animals? No mammals? It seemed that even the weasel on the cover of The News two weeks ago, the one that lived under the third bridge, was able to elude capture despite repeated attempts.
As for the endangered tidewater gobies, the State Parks rep said only one was found, which was placed over the barrier into the main channel. Three other fish were found that "more than likely were common arrow gobies." Two larval gobies were discovered but it was uncertain which species they are, and they were placed in the main channel.
The SES said the concerns for the ducks expressed on last week's cover were unnecessary. There is supposedly a biologist monitoring work at all times to protect them, but no monitor is obvious in the photo. If work crews are paying attention to anything, it's to the photographer.
Project critics have stated that public access trails will be closed during construction but SES counters that access will be provided by an earthen dam, however it is not ADA compliant. Apparently access for the disabled has not been a state concern at the lagoon, as neither were the three bridges, yet disabled visitors, even those in wheelchairs, were able to cross them.
If humans don't like the provisions State Parks is making for them, they can speak up. I only can hope that all the wildlife that I was used to seeing and photographing at the lagoon also had viable options, but it's not certain. Will we ever have an accurate count of what once lived there and how it is now faring? Why am I not optimistic?