Santa Barbara is graced with an oasis of native wilderness surrounded by urban areas. Located adjacent to the UC Santa Barbara campus, Coal Oil Point Natural Reserve protects beach, dune, and wetland habitats within a spectacular but densely populated section of central California.
But this idyllic shoreline didn’t always look as pristine and inviting as it does today. In the 1940s, Coal Oil Point bristled with oil exploration and recovery equipment. A large oil spill in 1969 fouled both waters and wildlife with petroleum and tar. The disaster added fuel to the burgeoning environmental movement, and spurred interest in the protection and restoration of California’s coastlines.
A new documentary film, Bringing Back the Wild: Coal Oil Point Reserve, tells the inspiring story of how Coal Oil Point was restored back to healthy wetland and coastal strand habitat. Today, Coal Oil Point is protected as part of the 756,000-acre UC Natural Reserve System. Reserve director Cristina Sandoval, her staff, and dozens of volunteers and docents have led the transformation of the reserve into a place where people and wildlife can coexist side by side. Its shores and waters attract surfers, birders, researchers, and nature enthusiasts. A breeding colony of threatened western snowy plover thrives in the dunes, alongside myriad waterbirds, bobcats, and the occasional bear. In contrast to all-too-familiar stories of human-caused environmental degradation, the tale of Coal Oil Point offers a ray hope for our ecological future.
Directed and edited by Michael and Tina Love of Quastra Productions, Bringing Back the Wild will debut at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival this January. The Loves have also produced The Santa Ynez Wilderness, about the natural history of a visually stunning and ecologically important Central Coast watershed.
Catch a glimpse of the film from the trailer below.