Shoring up Bodega Marine Reserve against the weather

This story is part of NRS reserves transformed by Proposition 84 funds, a series describing the facilities improvements and expansions at NRS reserves supported by Proposition 84 bond funds.

Bodega Prop. 84
The facilities of Bodega Marine Reserve and Lab take a beating from marine weather. Proposition 84 funds helped make roofs, fences, and doors, shipshape again. Image: Lobsang Wangdu/NRS

By Kathleen Wong, UC Natural Reserve System

Bracing ocean breezes and crashing waves make Bodega Marine Reserve an exhilarating place to be. Sandwiched between the beaches of Sonoma Coast State Park, on a peninsula that shelters Bodega Bay, reserve lands include a beach, rocky tidepools, coastal prairie, and even an earthquake fault.

Yet the same coastal setting that makes the reserve so appealing to students and researchers is harsh to human structures. The salt air blowing off the Pacific corrodes metal fast. Buildings take a beating from fierce ocean winds and clammy air, and making rooms prone to mold if there are leaks.

By the time Proposition 84 passed in 2006, Bodega Marine Reserve had accumulated a laundry list of deferred maintenance. Reserve director Suzanne Olyarnik realized the bond funding was the only way her reserve was going to be able to address pernicious roof leaks and crumbling fences.

“No one will donate money to you for a fence. It’s good to have sources for these more mundane things that are so important for maintaining the site and facilities that support research and education,” Olyarnik says.

She and her colleagues at UC Davis put together a package including in-kind staff time, renovations to the reserve tool shed supplied by the NRS Systemwide Office, and funds from Bodega Marine Laboratory, which is located on reserve lands . With an equivalent amount of Proposition 84 funds from the state, Olyarnik was able to repair $120,000 worth of deferred maintenance.

“The $60,000 we received from the bond funds is many times our annual operating budget. We would not have been able to come up with that money any other way,” Olyarnik says.

At Bodega Marine Reserve, the boundary fence was the most obvious maintenance issue. Years of corrosion had eaten through many of the posts and had broken many of the connecting wires. The rusted poles and disconnected bits of wire were unsafe for people and wildlife alike.

The state of the fence, which extends along both sides of Bodega Head’s main road, gave passersby an unfortunate impression of the UC facility. “It looked like we weren’t keeping the place up,” says Suzanne Olyarnik, reserve director.

Worse, its sorry condition posed little to no deterrent to trespassers. “People felt they shouldn’t have to adhere to our no-trespassing signs because they thought we weren’t taking it seriously,” Olyarnik says.

Adding to the rundown impression were the entrance gates to Bodega Marine Reserve and Laboratory and the Bodega Marine Lab visitor housing complex. Corrosion occurs fastest on metal surfaces that touch, making the gates particularly vulnerable.

Other buildings at the reserve were starting to deteriorate as well. Head House, which provides office space for the reserve’s research coordinator and steward, had wallboard damage from a leaking roof. Meanwhile, gaps in the barn-style sliding door admitted rodents.

While no one wants mice romping around their desk, the health hazards at Bodega Marine Reserve were even more serious. Deer mice in the area are known to carry hantavirus. The potentially fatal disease is typically transmitted to humans in contact with rodent urine or feces.

“It’s a bummer when staff must stop what they’re doing and clean up rodent poop. We felt it was important to slow the animals’ ingress for peace of mind,” Olyarnik says

The dive locker and marine operations trailers also needed measures to halt water damage and maintain their functionality. At the dive locker, which stores wetsuits and has showers, the roof, ceiling, rain gutters, and lighting system all needed to be removed and replaced.

“The space stores a lot of wet gear. It’s an important area where researchers are coming back from the field chilled, and staff need a shower after applying herbicides for vegetation restoration,” Olyarnik says. “It needed to be a place that has adequate drainage and drying, and required upgrading for the mold to not become a health problem.”

As for the marine operations trailer, it might as well have had a neon sign tacked to its foundation reading “vacancies.” Gaps in the foundation enticed skunks and raccoons to take up residence in the dry space beneath the floor. Skirting around the foundation could exclude such unwanted guests.

Work commenced on the projects in May of 2014 and wrapped up by October of 2016.

Fixing leaks and fencing, says Olyarnik, has made a world of difference for her and her colleagues, not to mention the more than 2,000 visitors who use the reserve each year. “It’s the non-sexy stuff that keeps the place going and provides good facilities so people can do their research.”

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