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Natural beauty and a rich cultural history await discovery at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve (BCER).  At 1,449 acres, the Bolsa Chica Wetlands is the largest saltwater marsh between Monterey Bay and the Tijuana River Estuary.  Approximately 5 miles of trails can be explored from sunrise to sunset.  Since Bolsa Chica is home to rattlesnakes, black widows, coyotes, and poison oak as well as many rare and endangered species, it is important that visitors stay on designated trails. Click below for a Trail Map.

While the BCER welcomes many recreational users such as walkers, joggers, disabled visitors, birders, photographers, and nature lovers, dogs and bicycles are strictly prohibited at the reserve. Click below for Regulations of the Ecological Reserve.


Wetlands are one of the most productive ecosystems on the planet!  They support large numbers of plants and animals, and are highly dynamic.  Click here to learn more about wetland ecology!


With five plant communities, and its uses as a rest stop for migratory birds, nursery for marine life, and haven for rare and endangered species, the wetlands abound with a multitude of wildlife!  Click on any of the links below to learn more about the wildlife you can discover during your visit to the wetlands!


What is a Wetland?

A wetland is an area where water persists for the majority of the year, or in other words, really wet land!  Wetlands are found all over the world!  They may be composed of fresh water and be found where there are glaciers, rivers, or lakes. They may be composed mainly of salt water where water enters through a bay or underwater infusion. Or they may have a combination of salt water and fresh water (we call this brackish water) where a river and an ocean meet (this is called an estuary). Wetlands have many names that have resulted both from the regions that they are found in, as well as the type of vegetation found in them: slough, bayou, swamp, bog, mire, quagmire, muskeg, fin, moor, oasis, wet meadow or marsh.  A swamp is a wetland with lots of trees, a bog is a wetland that is very acidic with sphagnum moss that decays very slowly, and a marsh is a wetland with many tall grasses.


Bolsa Chica is considered a salt marsh with estuarine conditions that occur seasonally.  Year round, salt water enters the wetlands through Anaheim Bay in Seal Beach as well as a tidal inlet near the south end of the reserve (just north of Seapoint Avenue along PCH). During the rainy season, however, fresh water flows into the wetlands from the Wintersburg Flood Control Channel which creates brackish conditions typical of an estuary. There are four places that have freshwater conditions at the reserve:


What can Wetlands do for you?

Besides providing nesting and breeding grounds for birds, breeding and spawning habitat for fish, and a safe haven for many endangered and rare species, wetlands play an important ecological role by protecting inland areas from flooding and helping to clean and filter the water!


Nature’s Giant Sponge

Wetlands act like a giant tub or sponge for water.  Water that enters from streams, rivers, or flood control channels is slowed down and absorbed by the wetland, which reduces erosion potential, decreases the risk of flooding, and allows for groundwater recharge.


While water sits in the wetland, sediment particles sink to the bottom.  These sediments help create a thick mud that is completely saturated with water (we call this muck), which serves as the basis of the wetland food web.  The muck supports important bacteria that help convert harmful pollutants such as fertilizers, manure, leaking septic tanks, and municipal sewage into important nutrients that enter the food web and give life to the diverse array of wildlife that thrive in the wetlands.


Loss of Wetlands and Resulting Impacts

When a wetland is filled in and built upon, the resulting impacts can be devastating.  As Southern California’s coastal wetlands were filled in and developed, one resulting impact was flooding in many areas.  A solution for this problem was to channelize many of the rivers and streams.  These channels are successful for preventing floods, however much of the water that flows into them and out to the ocean is not treated.  Alarming amounts of trash and toxins flow from these flood control systems out to our oceans harming and potentially killing marine life.


At Bolsa Chica, storm water and urban runoff enter the wetlands through the Wintersburg Channel.  The Channel begins in Anaheim and flows through parts of Garden Grove, Orange, Santa Ana, Fountain Valley, and Huntington Beach. This means that anything that enters a storm drain connected to this channel winds up at Bolsa Chica.  During winter storms, a rush of water enters the wetlands bringing with it trash and pollutants.  Some of the trash that enters the wetlands includes sofas, mattresses, shopping carts, balls, spray paint cans, styrofoam, plastics and cigarette butts.  The Bolsa Chica Conservancy holds cleanup events to remove man-made trash from the wetlands. Click here to find ways you can get involved!


Changing Tides

Bolsa Chica is largely influenced by changing tides.  Incoming and outgoing tides create unique zones in the wetland where different wildlife can be found.  Explore the different zones below!


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