Students revitalize Sunset Cliffs

Admirers of the ocean walk along it as they gaze at the horizon. It extends 1.5 miles along the coast. It is the divide between PLNU and the ocean: Sunset Cliffs.

Students in Ecology and Conservation classes through the biology department have had the opportunity to participate in a restoration project aimed to remove the nonnative plants from Sunset Cliffs and restore the area by planting native plants.

David Kimball oversees the restoration project as a volunteer for the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park council, who named him the revegetation manager.

“We are trying to create a coastal sage scrub vegetation environment–one that is friendly to native birds and reptiles,” said Kimball via email.

“An effort was begun in the mid 1990s to hydroseed with about five native plant species,” said Kimball. “We began to actively revegetate the area in 2005 following approval of a master plan for all of Sunset Cliffs Natural Park.”

Much of that area is overgrown with dead, unsightly grasses.

“That’s what happens when you disturb a native area,” said April Maskiewicz, associate professor of biology. “Nonnative weeds and grasses can come in and they can basically establish themselves quickly and they can take over and outcompete the native plants.”

Maskiewicz requires her students in Bio 105 to participate in a three hour service project related to the restoration of the ecosystem. The same is required for students in Bio 211 with Walter Cho, professor of biology, and Bio 105 with Mike Mooring, professor of biology.

“When the environment is healthy, people are more healthy,” said Maskiewicz. “There’s a direct correlation between clean water and good habitat, and healthy populations. So, I try to help make that length — that caring for the environment really does mean caring for people.”

Kimball said the organization has regular work parties in which volunteers, such as neighbors and students participate.

When the students arrive, Kimball has plants and tools ready for their use. Kimball said the San Diego Park and Recreation department and grants from other organizations provide these materials. He shares a brief history of the area — around 100 years ago the land was plowed and nonnative agriculture was planted, but did not thrive in foreign soil. Then, the students get to work.

“We have used PLNU students to help clear land, spread mulch, maintain trails, plant, and water,” said Kimball. “The work they do each year has really made a difference in the amount of area we have restored. PLNU student help is invaluable to us.”

On Feb. 4, freshman biology major Claudia Castilleja, participated in the restoration project with about 15 other students.

“David would put the pots out and we would plant them,” said Castilleja. “So we’d take them out and dig little holes and put water in them and put the plants in — we probably planted 100 plants. We did it so fast — did so much, we had to stop because he was running out of plants.”

The area of land cultivated with native plants continues to increase, as the roped off space, where the restoration project occurs, continues to widen.

“From an area of about a quarter acre with 20 percent native plants, we now have over 2.5 acres with 100 percent native species,” said Kimball. “We have about 55 species successfully established and now self supporting — they need no watering even in summer and predominate over the non-native species.”

When students are asked to reflect on their experience, Maskiewicz said they usually have a positive response to restoration projects they participate in.

“You see how important a native plant is, how it’s important to the environment,” said Castilleja. “They give off different things, in like its own little ecosystem. And then when it’s taken away, everything dies, basically. So that entire area was dead, and it was really cool to see it reintroduced — to bring it back yourself, instead of just reading about it.”