Scripps Coastal Reserve

Scripps Coastal Reserve
Scripps Coastal Reserve / Photo by Lobsang Wangdu

Scripps Coastal Reserve provides excellent opportunities to examine the dramatic land-sea interface in Southern California. Commanding a view for 50 kilometers (30 miles), the precipitous upland portion of the reserve, located adjacent to the UC San Diego Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO), is topped by a knoll and bounded by steep coastal canyons. The reserve’s rugged coastal bluffs plummet 100 meters (328 feet) to the ocean surface. From there, the marine portion of the reserve plunges to a depth of 227 meters (745 feet) below sea level into the tributaries of the Scripps and La Jolla submarine canyons. Scripps Pier juts 320 meters (1,050 feet) into the Pacific Ocean, providing access to rich, deep, underwater habitats.

Plant and animal communities at the reserve have adapted to the various stresses of life at the marine margin, such as shifting tides, sand migration, inundation, and desiccation. This site’s highly diverse, terrestrial and marine reserve habitats include disturbed coastal sage scrub, succulent scrub, coastal strand, rocky reef, sandy beach, submerged sandy plain, pier pilings, and submarine canyon and associated ledges.

Native American Heritage

Scripps Coastal Reserve has been utilized by the Kumeyaay people since time immemorial, and it continues to be a culturally important site. 

Habitat Restoration

The Scripps Coastal Reserve mesa has a history of disturbance, primarily from its use as a military base during World War II and dry-land farming prior to that.  Although the mesa continues to be impacted by invasive plant species, 30 years of careful management has restored much of the coastal sage scrub habitat. A vibrant volunteer program continues work to suppress longstanding invasives, eradicate recent arrivals, and re-establish native vegetation.

Public Outreach

Each year the Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s Birch Aquarium and local K–12 schools bring hundreds of students to visit reserve tidepools. Volunteer opportunities and docent-led tours of the half-mile trail on the mesa-top are available to the general public. Email for the current schedule.

Field Courses

Site visits by university courses in ecology, oceanography, biology, geology, molecular biology, mathematics, and interdisciplinary areas.

Selected Research

  • The effect of different reproductive strategies on the genetic variation of eastern Pacific eelgrass taxa.
  • The leptostraca* of coastal California: A survey based on morphological and molecular evidence. [*a marine order of the class malacostraca, which is a subclass of the subphyllum crustacea]
  • Leopard shark observation/collection.
  • Development of a marine metazoan physiological bioassay for heavy metal contamination.
  • Observation and mapping of populations of the seaweed Codium fragile.

Isabelle Kay
Natural Reserve System
Applied Physics and Math Annex
Rooms 2802 and 2808
9500 Gilman Drive
UC, San Diego
La Jolla, CA 92093-0116
Scripps Coastal Reserve website

San Diego County; upland portion is approximately 0.5 km (0.3 mi.) west of main campus and 1 km (0.6 mi.) north of Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO); marine portion is adjacent to SIO.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the San Diego campus provide real-time and long-term atmospheric and ocean meteorological data, laboratory and library support, diving facilities, small boats, aquaria, and pier. NRS office can provide field supplies and equipment, including water tanker, flatbed trailer, small tractor with attachments for rent.

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: being updated; currently lists 263 species, 160 of which are native
Bird monitoring
Collections of marine plants, animals, and sediments at SIO; synoptic vascular plant collection; vertebrate species lists; biological, archaeological, geological reports; site-related research bibliography, including reserve-based publications since 1995; hydrographic and meteorological records available through SIO; long-term monitoring data for rocky intertidal.

Academic coordinator on campus.

342 hectares (844 acres)

Below MLLW: 15 m (50 ft.)
Above mean sea level: 113 m (370 ft.)

22 cm (9 in.) per year.

Air: September maximum: 25 ºC (78 ºF)
January minimum: 8 ºC (47 ºF)
Water: August maximum: 21 ºC (69 ºF)
February minimum: 14 ºC (57 ºF)

Scripps Coastal Reserve
Scripps Coastal Reserve / Photo by Lobsang Wangdu
Scripps Coastal Reserve
Scripps Coastal Reserve / Photo by Lobsang Wangdu
Scripps Coastal Reserve
Scripps Coastal Reserve / Photo by Lobsang Wangdu
Scripps Coastal Reserve
Scripps Coastal Reserve / Photo by Lobsang Wangdu