A substantial rainstorm poured down on Bolsa Chica in the third weekend of January 2023. A few days after the storm past rare vernal pools were spotted on the mesa by Bequi (Bolsa Chica Steward) and UCI Fellow Nicholas. Even more amazing was the fact these pools were occupied by tiny little crustaceans called Fairy Shrimp. There are 25 species of fairy shrimp in California, and many are listed species (threatened or endangered) and are endemic to vernal pools. There have only been a couple of sightings at Bolsa Chica. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that we all got very excited when we heard about this discovery. Read below to hear their personal stories about this spectacular observation and watch a short video clip at the end.
Written by Bequi Howarth
Pulling a green wagon down a trail lined with yellow bush sunflowers on a beautiful winter day in Southern California I notice the fresh blue sky still holding puffy clouds left over from the recent storms and I take a deep breath of cool air. The wagon bumps and rattles along as we weave our way past large rain puddles on the trail. UCI Fellow Nicholas and I are headed to a spot above the pocket marsh where a new restoration plot has been cleared and planting has begun. Our task is to check on the newly planted cactus and remove non-native grasses to prepare for more planting. The wagon holds shovels, rakes and other helpful tools for our work.
As we skirt past a particularly large puddle I look down to see if there’s anything interesting in the water and am surprised to see something small and feathery moving quickly along the bottom. Stopping to squat down along the water’s edge I look closely at what appear to be little fish swimming around. Fish!? Nicholas comes back down the trail to see why I’ve stopped when it suddenly occurs to me… these are Fairy Shrimp!! My excitement takes him by surprise as I quickly pull out my phone and shout with delight, “Fairy Shrimp! These are Fairy Shrimp!” and I start taking photos and video. He catches on that this is a special event and pulls out his phone as well to snap some pictures. As we circle the puddle taking photos, attempting to get an idea of just how many there are, I tell Nicholas that oral historical information indicates that there were vernal pools and Fairy Shrimp somewhere out here on the mesa of the BCER, but exact locations had been lost.
Originally, I had been hired to manage the archives for BCLT, to sort, scan and otherwise store 30 years’ worth of information including biological surveys, maps, archaeology studies and more. Our Executive Director, Kim Kolpin, asked me to keep an eye out for any mention of vernal pools or Fairy Shrimp in the hopes we could get at least an idea of where to look for them. Then, on this bright January day, I happen to stumble across just what we were looking for! It was an exciting find to say the least.
A text was quickly sent to the appropriate people and the CDFW Reserve Manager, Melissa Borde, was contacted. Within a few days biologists from San Diego came up to collect specimens, however in our warm Southern California climate the pools had already begun to evaporate and the biologists arrived hours before the last pool dried up. Fortunately, they were able to collect two Fairy Shrimp to take back to the lab for identification.
So, why are Fairy Shrimp important? In short, they are a part of healthy habitat at Bolsa Chica Wetlands. Vernal pools are critical habitat for many species including Fairy Shrimp, daphnia, water beetles and toads. These animals in turn serve as food for birds and mammals that live at Bolsa Chica, and the pools provide water for drinking and bathing. Finding Fairy Shrimp indicates that at one time vernal pools were an active part of the overall Bolsa Chica Wetlands ecosystem. Restoring and protecting these pools means that we can, once again, increase the biodiversity and come ever closer to bringing back strong, healthy habitat at Bolsa Chica.
Imagine walking along the mesa trail among fragrant sagebrush, colorful flowers, and a richly diverse ecosystem filled with hundreds of species of reptiles, insects, birds, and mammals. The Stewards of Bolsa Chica Land Trust have been working hard to make this happen, finding Fairy Shrimp gives us yet another opportunity to expand our efforts and build Bolsa Chica back into the glorious place it once was.
Written by Nicholas Hucko
My name is Nicholas Hucko and I have been working for the Bolsa Chica Land Trust for about 6 months, I am a part of the California College Corp Program as a UCI student, and this is post is about myself being a part of finding the Fairy Shrimp. The group of us from UCI have been a part of restoring a new area of Bolsa Chica that overlooks pocket marsh. The restoration had been paused due to the rain at the beginning of the year, but once the rain was done the restoration resumed. Bequi and I were heading out after the rain to continue clearing invasive plants and planting native ones. When we turned at the point, we noticed many vernal pools had built up on the trail. We had to carefully go around as the pools covered large portions of the trail. As we passed with the wagon Bequi stopped to show me what she thought to be Daphnia but, when looking closely, questioned if that was what they really were. Then she started to think they could be Fairy Shrimp. We looked at all of the pools on the trail, about 10 or so, and found the Fairy Shrimp to be in about half of the pools. We took pictures and videos and sent them to CDFW to see if they could be confirmed by someone to be fairy shrimp. I was out on the trail a few days later and the pools had all been cordoned off, and I was told that they were indeed fairy shrimp, but the species of fairy shrimp was still being determined, and efforts to protect them were being planned.
This was a unique and memorable experience to be a part of. I have been volunteering with the Land Trust for some time, and while I have seen the effect it has had on the plants here, by both clearing invasive and planting native plants, I had not specifically seen an effect on the animal / wildlife population. While I did not directly have a hand in the fairy shrimp showing up, I now see how pivotal the work of the Bolsa Chica Land Trust and other organizations to preserve Bolsa Chica is for the animal. If these organizations had not existed, the fairy shrimp might not have been found and efforts would not be under way to ensure they continue to exist in their native habitat.