Doxa Orange right arrow Designing Ecology: The Año Nuevo Island Restoration Project

Aerial view of Año Nuevo Island, off the coast of Santa Cruz, California

Aerial view of Año Nuevo Island, off the coast of Santa Cruz, California.

Rebar is very excited to be collaborating with Oikonos Ecosystem Knowledge, an extraordinary international conservation biology non-profit organization, to design some habitat restoration elements for Año Nuevo Island, a marine environment heavily altered by human intervention, and one of only four island systems off the coast of California.

From 1872 through the 1940s, Año Nuevo Island was an operative Coast Guard lighthouse station, and it seems like it was a pretty cushy gig: In addition to a steel frame lighthouse, island infrastructure included a Victorian mansion, outbuildings, an elaborate non-native garden, a cistern and a rail system. In 1948, an automated buoy replaced the lighthouse, the island was effectively abandoned by humans, and the “natural” world began its inexorable reclamation process. But the island still carries the evidence of successive human interventions: The lighthouse has collapsed into a rusting steel hulk, the cistern has fractured. The Victorian home is actually faring pretty well, under the circumstances.

The lighthouse stattion, 1953

The Coast Guard lighthouse station, circa 1953.

The house, circa 2008

The house, circa 2008.

The Lighthouse, circa 2008

The Lighthouse, circa 2008.

Our client: The Rhinoceros Auklet. Photo by Frank Balthis.

The Rhinoceros Auklet. Photo by Frank Balthis.

The current ecological dynamics of the island have substantially degraded the habitat of two burrowing seabirds, both of which are state-listed “species of concern” — the Rhinoceros Auklet and the Cassin’s Auklet. The marine terrace soil that composes the center of the island is rapidly disappearing due to extensive landscape alterations during the “lighthouse” era, natural erosion, and sporadically high California sea lion densities. The approximately 300 breeding Auklets that rear their young in underground burrows depend upon undisturbed soil and soil-stabilizing vegetation. If left untouched, the habitat for these Auklets will degrade further until it is no longer a viable breeding ground. This is where we come in.

Led by Oikonos, a cross-disciplinary team of ecologists, habitat restoration experts, artists, designers and government agencies are collaborating to restore the degraded habitat for these nesting seabirds. Once the habitat has been successfully protected from marine mammal incursion, the team will rehabilitate the native plant community to reduce erosion, provide sustainable Auklet breeding habitat and, ultimately, increase the biodiversity of this unique island ecosystem.

Room for improvement: The current Nest Module design.

Room for improvement: The current Nest Module design.

The Año Nuevo Island habitat restoration project includes two main design elements. To separate the sizeable sea lion population from critical bird breeding areas, Rebar is designing and constructing a series of Habitat Walls at strategic locations around the island. In addition, to facilitate the seabird species nesting and breeding while the native flora restoration is ongoing, Rebar will develop a system of Nest Modules to replace the current human-made modules, which are constructed from plywood and PVC plastic piping.

To develop the Nest Modules, we are teaching a interdisciplinary design course through the ENGAGE program at the Center for Art and Public Life at the California College of the Arts. The course will be taught through the Ceramics Department with Nathan Lynch, the department chair, a very talented artist and, as you can see by his fine art work, just the perfect artist for a bird habitat project such as this.

We are excited to harness the design talents of CCA students to help solve this challenging design problem. We will also be investigating the role of the artist and designer in helping structure or mediate interpretations of “nature” and “restoration ecology” within a broader framework of the environmental movement, human interactions with natural landscapes, ideas of wilderness, the nature preserve, national parks and so forth. Basically, it’s another look at how human imagination and systems of regulation, organization and control are implemented in the landscape. It’s very Rebar.

We’ll post more as the project develops.

Until then, please check out the Año Nuevo Island Restoration Project website.

Stay tuned!

Written by Matthew

January 8th, 2010 at 4:44 pm