The Los Cerritos Wetlands Authority last month received a $31.8 million grant from the California State Coastal Conservancy that will eventually help fund the restoration of 54 acres of wetlands.

The plan is part of the first phase of the Southern Los Cerritos Wetlands Restoration Project’s effort to restore 103.5 acres of the wetlands in Seal Beach and Long Beach—as much of California’s historical wetlands have been lost.

In its first phase, the project will be focused on flood management, planting vegetation and building paths for public access on the edge of the wetlands, according to Tidal Influence Principal Restoration Ecologist Eric Zahn, who manages the project.

Much of the southern wetlands are now covered in black mustard plants, an invasive species from Europe. Zahn hopes to transform the spaces where they grow into a refuge that will attract and support endangered wildlife.

“[This will] create a wonderful place for young biologists and ecologists to train and learn about restoration ecology,” said Zahn.

The Wetlands Authority hopes to start these projects and the necessary construction by fall 2025. Though Zahn didn’t specify how much, a large portion of the grant money will also go toward community outreach over the next five years.

Public access to the wetlands is limited right now, but in the meantime, folks can view them from trails at Gum Grove Park and Heron Pointe.

A Great Egret takes flight over the Los Cerritos Wetlands in Seal Beach, on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust, a community activist group, also leads community hikes every three months to educate the public about the importance of the wetlands, particularly reaching out to disadvantaged youth who may not have easy access to nature.

The nonprofit will lead a “Turtle Trek” on Saturday, Oct. 7.

“I’ve been really moved by how the public has embraced the idea of protecting the Los Cerritos wetlands and how important it’s become to the public that they be restored,” said Land Trust Executive Director Elizabeth Lambe.

Public support has been broad according to the project’s report, but there are groups like the Sierra Club Los Cerritos Wetlands Taskforce and Puvungna Wetlands Protectors that have been vocal in their opposition to the Wetlands Authority’s restoration efforts.

They say the project would actually pollute neighboring communities, disturb historical ecology and infringe on Puvungna, sacred indigenous land.

“These places are irreplaceable,” said Rebecca Robles, who is an Acjachemen tribe member raised in Long Beach. “They’re very important for our spiritual well-being.”

According to Zahn and the project’s report, the Wetlands Authority has held numerous opportunities for public comment and feedback, conducted cultural and ecological assessments and consulted with Gabrielino-Tongva and Acjachemen tribal representatives throughout the planning process.

Wetland projects will not undergo construction work during nesting season for native birds and are required to have a biologist, archaeologist and tribal member on-site at all times, according to Zahn.

“The Los Cerritos Wetlands Authority has gone above and beyond what is necessary to make sure that this is not only a successful ecological restoration, but that this is also paying respect to the cultural sensitivity of the site,” said Zahn.

Get updates from the Wetlands Authority here and sign up for the Land Trust’s mailing list here.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify that the grant came from the California State Coastal Conservancy, not the California Coastal Commission. 

Maison Tran is a fellow at the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected].