Kendall-Frost Mission Bay Marsh Reserve

Kendall-Frost Mission Bay Marsh Reserve
Kendall-Frost Marsh Reserve. Image credit: Lobsang Wangdu

The Kendall-Frost Mission Bay Marsh Reserve protects a valuable remnant of coastal salt marsh habitats once common throughout Southern California estuaries. Despite major alterations to the surrounding land and water, this small, heart-shaped wetland at the northern edge of Mission Bay remains remarkably productive, providing rich intertidal habitats. Topography ranges from high marsh to submerged shoreline, creating a classic vertical zonation of habitats, each with its own spectrum of vegetation and invertebrates.

Habitats within the site include coastal salt marsh, tidal channels, and salt flats; the adjacent Northern Wildlife Preserve contains mudflats, a sand spit, eelgrass beds, and the open waters of Mission Bay. Thousands of shorebirds visit the marsh and mudflats during annual migrations; at least two endangered bird species, Ridgway’s rail and Belding’s savannah sparrow, rely entirely on the marsh.

Native American Heritage

The marsh is near the site of a Kumeyaay village and its rich resources were used by Native people.  Activities to reconnect Kumeyaay to the Mission Bay coastline are ongoing and include student internships to research the ecological history of the area as well as traditional Hai Kawai boat building and repair.

Habitat Restoration

Over 300 acres (120 ha) of land adjacent to the marsh, managed by the city of San Diego, is in the midst of a planning process that will include some amount of wetland restoration in the future. Research on the economic value of the ecosystem services of the current and potential marsh is helping to inform this planning process. Prior restoration activities have included re-grading landfill sites, eradicating invasive mangroves, and transplanting marsh and transition zone vegetation. 

Student Volunteer Program

Students from nearby Mission Bay High School participate in research, help with marsh restoration, develop public outreach materials, and take a leadership role in outreach events.  Younger students plant native plants in the restoration areas and create artwork for outreach materials.

Public outreach

Members of the community have the opportunity to visit the marsh through the Wander the Wetlands program or monthly work parties. Love Your Wetlands Day, the first Saturday of February, attracts hundreds of visitors seeking to learn about wetlands or to help care for the marsh by collecting trash, planting native plants, refurbishing rail nesting platforms, and more.

Selected Research

Isabelle Kay
Natural Reserve System
Applied Physics and Math Annex
Rooms 2802 and 2808
9500 Gilman Drive
UC San Diego
La Jolla, CA 92093
Kendall-Frost Mission Bay Marsh Reserve website

San Diego County, on the northern edge of Mission Bay; 11 km (7 mi.) south of UC San Diego.

Observation deck; trailer with utilities (electricity, internet, hot and cold running water), lab bench, office, living area; overnight accommodations for up to four people.

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

Plant List
Plant and bird species lists; bibliography of on-site research, including reserve-based publications since 1995; aerial photos; census of endangered species; geographic information system (GIS) available for research, teaching, and management use.

Academic coordinator on campus; no personnel on site.

8 hectares (21 acres) plus use of the contiguous city-owned portion (40 acres total)

-0.6 m to 3.0 m (-2 to +10 ft.)

31 cm (12.3 in.) per year

13.2 – 19.6 ºC (55.8 – 67.3 ºF)
Mean: 16.4 ºC (61.6ºF)
January minimum: 9 ºC (47 ºF)
August maximum: 23 ºC (73 ºF)

Kendall-Frost Mission Bay Marsh Reserve
Kendall-Frost Students