Coal Oil Point Natural Reserve

Coal Oil Point Natural Reserve
Coal Oil Point Natural Reserve/Photo by Lobsang Wangdu

One of the best remaining examples of a coastal-strand environment in Southern California, the Coal Oil Point Natural Reserve protects a wide variety of shoreline and estuarine habitats. Largely undisturbed coastal dunes support a rich assemblage of dune vegetation, while older and more stable backdunes are covered with southern coastal scrub habitat. In the heart of the reserve, Devereux Slough is a seasonally flooded tidal lagoon that dries out in the summer to form salt flats and hypersaline ponds and channels. A variety of intertidal habitats occur along the sandy beach and the large rocky reef at the point. Thousands of migratory birds visit throughout the year. Located adjacent to the Santa Barbara campus, the reserve provides a unique and accessible research and teaching resource. Many university courses, including botany, ecology, biodiversity field methods, natural history, marine biology, invertebrate zoology, and environmental studies.

The reserve has a Nature Center with exhibits of local research and habitats, a meeting room, a laboratory, and staff offices. There are no overnight facilities at the reserve.

Habitat Restoration

Several ongoing restoration projects aim to improve the biological functioning of the reserve. Over the past seven years, Coal Oil Point Reserve has restored more than 30 acres of wetland margins, vernal pools, coastal sage scrub, dunes, and beach habitat. These areas are now self-sustaining and rich in native wildlife. Native plants are propagated on site in the reserve’s native plant nursery. Plants are grown primarily from seeds collected on the reserve to ensure the preservation of the genetic stock adapted to the area. Restoration projects offer opportunities for undergraduate internships every quarter.

Special-status Species

Reserve staff monitor and protect listed and rare species such as the western snowy plover. The reserve recovered a historical nesting site abandoned for decades due to unmanaged beach recreation. Today, visitors can spot western snowy plover nests and chicks with the help of volunteer docents who are present at Sands Beach seven days a week.

Self-guided Walking Tour

Visitors can tour reserve trails on their own while listening to interpretive podcasts, or take a guided tour on the first Saturday of each month.

Selected Research

  • USGS earthquake monitoring: COPR has one of 200 antennae used by USGS geologists to study earth movement
  • Reserve-managed monitoring of water quality, aquatic invertebrates, birds, western snowy plover population status and breeding success, and subtidal organisms
  • Tick distribution and Lyme disease
  • Coastal processes and sea level rise
  • Sandy beach food web
  • Predictions of western snowy plover habitat loss and adaptation to sea level rise

Special Research of National Significance

  • PISCO (Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans): Large-scale marine science research program that focuses on understanding the nearshore ecosystems of the U.S. West Coast and involves collaborating scientists from four universities. At Coal Oil Point, PISCO researchers use a remote sensing antenna to monitor rocky intertidal and ocean currents.
  • Ecology of Lyme disease

Cristina Sandoval
Natural Reserve System
University of California
Santa Barbara, CA 93106
mobile: 805-451-2403
Coal Oil Point Natural Reserve website

Santa Barbara County, on UC Santa Barbara’s West Campus, overlooking the Santa Barbara Channel.

Nature Center with wet lab, office, meeting room, kitchen, interpretive displays

The reserve bibliography includes citations of journal articles, books, theses, art, and other works published about or based on activities conducted at the reserve.

Extensive monthly climate records; some records of lagoon temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen; plant and animal lists and monitoring data; historic/current aerial photos; published management plans for plants, animals, and hydrology; natural-resource geographic information system (GIS); comprehensive catalog of research on UC Santa Barbara wetlands under development.

Reserve director, conservation specialist, and steward are based at the Nature Center.

69 hectares (170 acres)

0 to 12 m (0 to 40 ft.)

36-53 cm (14-21 in.) per year

January minimum: 6 ºC (42 ºF)
August maximum: 24 ºC (75 ºF)

a yellow measuring tape against the stubby clavus (tail end) of the mola tecta
A closeup of the clavus area — a key diagnostic feature — of the hoodwinker sunfish found in February on Sands Beach, at Coal Oil Point Reserve. Image credit: Thomas turner
Refugio Oil Spill
Endangered Western snowy plovers nesting at the NRS’s Coal Oil Point Reserve were among the wildlife affected by the 2015 Refugio OIl Spill. Image: Lobsang Wangdu/NRS
Woman wearing blue nitrile gloves and a baseball cap uses scissors to snip a sample of the pectoral fin of the mola tecta which is lying on the sand of the beach. Its head is visible. The fish is almost perfectly oval except for a long vertical fin below its boy.
Jessica Nielsen, a conservation specialist at Coal Oil Point Reserve, takes tissue samples from the hoodwinker sunfish that washed up on Sands Beach in February 2019 Image credit: Thomas Turner
metal ruler placed against the brown dorsal "fin" of the Mola tecta, which is mottled in pinkish-white dots
Detailed photographs and measurements, such as this of the hoodwinker’s dorsal ossicles, were key to enabling identification of the Mola tecta.