Malibu Lagoon Observations

Volunteers helping Jayni Shuman gather netted fish for Rosi Dagit's identification tray during this summers fish survey in the restored channels at the Malibu Lagoon.
Photo above: Volunteers helping Jayni Shuman gather netted fish for Rosi Dagit’s identification tray during this summers fish survey in the restored channels at the Malibu Lagoon.
Story and photos by Steve Woods

For those of you wanting to observe wildlife at one of our most popular local State Parks, the Malibu Lagoon will be that place. Since 2013, an increasing population of bird watchers have been observing a growing population of migrating birds, as well as an uptick in the diversity of bird species visiting and staying longer at the Malibu Lagoon and Wetlands.

Bird and fish biologists have both  noticed that there has been very little to no eutrophication or algae buildup since the first year after the Malibu Lagoon restoration in 2012. 

Improved water quality from wind and tidal circulation seems to have degraded previous historic concentrations of nitrogen and phosphate pollution. 

A decrease in detrimental excessive algae blooms and higher Dissolved Oxygen levels  has  improved the environmental health for fish, crab, shrimp crustacean, invertebrates barnacles and according to the Santa Monica Audubon Society, fishing bird populations are also increasing in the areas once deemed the lifeless ‘Dead Zones’ by the EPA. 

Although there have been an increase in the local year around bird populations, large migrating bird flocks are usually not seen during the summer but in the coming months there will be a steady increase of birds that will stop in for a rest and eat the increasing fish populations that are on the menu in the lagoon.

Binocular toting  bird watchers excitedly tick off many birds on their survey check list and as hard as they look they have not seen the return of the Virginia Rail but experts believe that as the native reeds continue to expand that they will return.

Biologist are really excited about the first historic return since the 1940’s and the successful nesting by the endangered Snowy Plovers and endangered Least Terns.These birds have been seen nesting on the sand inside of the protective fencing that was set up to keep human activity out of the nesting sites near 3rd point. 

One nest of eggs was protected from predator crows with a wire cage.

Biologist Rosi Dagit recently conducted a  post-restoration  fish survey of Malibu Lagoon on Tuesday 19 June 2018 by a team from the RCD of the Santa Monica Mountains with assistance from Santa Monica Bay Foundation staff and volunteers. 

“This was the 10th post construction survey since January 2013. One of the restoration goals was to improve habitat conditions for native fish species, especially the federally endangered tidewater goby, and reduce the numbers of non-native species. Even during the drought years the newly planted  native vegetation has grown quicker than many had hoped for and with many different varieties taking hold the along the waters edge, millions of new born fish are using the plants as protective nursery hiding from  the larger predator fish.

Malibu Lagoon has been closed to the ocean since late April 2018, with lagoon levels remaining relatively constant and deep. We were able to seine to depletion at all sites. High water levels contributed to emergent vegetation at the banks of all survey sites. Low tide was at 9:12 am (1.3’ elevation) and high tide was at 4:14 pm (6.2’ elevation). Due to closed conditions, tide did not affect depth levels in the lagoon during this survey.  Site 4, established for monitoring in 2013, continued to be inaccessible. We therefore continued to use site (2a) to comply with the monitoring plan requirements. In addition, we conducted two spot surveys along the eastern end of the beach along the closed berm.

A total of 5 juvenile federally endangered tidewater gobies (Eucyclogobius newberryi) were captured during seining at Site 3 and Site 6. All individuals were subsequently released after identification and size classification. Striped mullet (Mugil cephalus) were observed jumping throughout the lagoon and were observed swimming away from sites as blocking nets were being positioned. The dominant species surveyed and identified was topsmelt (Atherinops affinis, larva = 3128, juveniles =15, adult = 2), followed by smelt larva that appeared to have recently hatched (Atherinops sp = 2400), and Oriental Shrimp (Palaemonetes spp. = 442). A total of 10 longjawed mudsucker larvae (Gillichthys mirabilis) and 1 adult were also observed. Additionally, 12 Staghorn sculpin (L. armatus) juveniles and 2 adults were observed

The majority of individuals collected were extremely young larval or juvenile fish, which suggests that Malibu Lagoon is currently serving as a nursery site for both lagoon species. It was great to see the continued dominance and recovery of native species.”

Species captured or observed during the June 2018 survey include:

Native Fish Species 

Tidewater goby                                      Eucyclogobius newberryi

Topsmelt                                              Atherinops affinis

Staghorn sculpin                                  Leptocottus armatus

Striped mullet                                      Mugil cephalus

Longjawed mudsucker                         Gillithys mirabilis

Non-Native Fish Species

Mississippi Silversides                         Menidia beryllina

Mosquitofish                                       Gambusia affinis 


Oriental shrimp                                    Palaemonetes sp.

Hemigraspus crab

Water boatman juvenile

Damselfly nymph

Caddisfly larva

For a detailed account of current bird populations click here on the Santa Monica Audubon Society Blog Site

Gadwell ducklings leading mom the way around the restored channels.
Whimbrels enjoying some quiet beach time on one of the islands.
The resident Great Blue Herons along with a growing number of Snowy Egrets don’t need to go anywhere else to find fish to eat.
Members of the fish survey team wade out to one of the monitoring stations on the Osprey Island to net fish samples.


Cece Woods

The Current Report Editor in Chief Cece Woods started The Local Malibu, an activism based platform in 2014. The publication was instrumental in the success of pro-preservation ballot measures and seating five top vote-getters in the Malibu City Council elections.

During the summer of 2018, Woods exposed the two-year law enforcement cover-up in the Malibu Creek State Park Shootings, and a few short months later provided the most comprehensive local news coverage during the Woolsey Fire attracting over one million hits across her social media platforms.

Since 2020, Woods was the only journalist reporting on the on-going public corruption involving former L.A. Metro CEO Phil Washington. Woods worked with Political Corruption expert Adam Loew, DC Watchdog organizations and leaders in the Capitol exposing Washington which ultimately led to the withdrawal of his nomination to head the FAA.

Woods also founded Malibu based 90265 Magazine and Cali Mag devoted to the authentic southern California lifestyle.

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