Touring the Los Cerritos Wetlands

When it comes to the natural environment in Southern California things aren’t always as they seem. Take for instance the area around PCH and 2nd Street on the Long Beach/Seal Beach border. To the the naked eye it may seem like a barren landscape dotted with oil wells and hulking power plants. In reality, it’s the Los Cerritos Wetlands an ancient marshland home to a number of endangered species.

The Los Cerritos Wetlands, near the mouth of the San Gabriel River, once encompassed around 2,400 acres but, due to an encroaching population and the discovery of oil reserves, its size has been greatly reduce. Yet, there is still the footprint of what used to be and through the efforts of organizations like the Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust what remains is being preserved and restored.

Because much of the wetlands is on private property it’s not currently open to the public but there is a way to explore it – once a month the Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust offers a free guided tour and on a recent Saturday I joined them for a Sea Turtle Trek.

Bright and early I joined a large group of citizens eager to see this hidden environment. Guided by naturalists from Tidal Influence we spent the next couple of hours viewing wildlife and learning about this unique environment.

At first, while walking by the remains of the Marina Palace nightclub and through the grounds of a working oil field there didn’t seem to be much to the wetlands. But as we continued on our journey the landscape started to change and wildlife became evident.

We spotted jack rabbits, lizards and numerous shorebirds including the beautiful killdeer. We even spotted the Belding’s Savannah Sparrow, one of the endangered species the wetlands is home to. As we trekked, the environment’s true nature started to reveal itself and it was clear we were in a vast natural environment in the heart of the big city.

We then crossed 2nd Street to the shores of the San Gabriel River for a final treat – sea turtle spotting!

As you can see, the river is adjacent to a power plant and this is exactly why the turtles are found here. The plant pumps out warm water which the turtles love and they congregate near the vents.

Since I was only armed with my phone camera there was no way I was able to grab a picture (you’d really need a telephoto lens to get a good shot) but rest assured they were there. We actually spotted a large number of them bobbing their heads out of the water to grab a breath.  I hadn’t seen sea turtles since a long ago trip to Hawaii and, honestly, I never knew we had them in SoCal!

Once we had our fill of turtle spotting we headed back to our cars and wrapped up the tour. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve driven past the Los Cerritos Wetlands and never even knew it was there! Thanks to the efforts of the Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust it will still be around for generations to come and, hopefully, in the near future be open to the public. Until then, tours are regularly available. Be sure to sign up for their email list so you can hop on the next one!