The Esplanade in Marina Del Rey is thought of as a continuation of the Grand Canal in Venice. Both waterways are actually part of the Ballona Wetlands, the natural estuary that is a habitat for numerous flora and fauna.
Roy Van de Hoek and Marcia Hanscom, founders of The Ballona Institute, have been conducting tours of the Wetlands and working to preserve the estuary for several years. Their latest project is “The Ballona Plant-In,” an all-volunteer effort to put more than 6000 native plants into the banks of the Esplanade, which will restore and enhance the lagoon ecosystem.
On a recent Sunday, Van de Hoek and Hanscom took time out from the planting to talk with The Mirror about the evolution of the project.
It was almost a decade ago, Hanscom said, when she and Van de Hoek learned that the City of Los Angeles was planning a project to dredge the bottom of the Grand Canal and fill it in with concrete. Along with several other environmental groups, they filed a lawsuit against the City. It was a long struggle. “We had to have a lot of photo documentation,” said Van de Hoek. “I was one of the scientists [who testified]. I pointed out the impact that the City’s project would have.”
The environmentalists won the lawsuit but still had to wait a few more years before they could go forward with the idea of a natural restoration of the Canal area. It was only when Bill Rosendahl was elected to the Los Angeles City Council that The Ballona Institute was able to gain support for its project. A local developer also came on board, and finally, the City’s Public Work Department gave its cooperation.
In October of this year The Ballona Institute began Phase One of the planting project. Plants have been put into the ground on the east side of the Esplanade. A nearby vacant lot serves as a storage area and temporary nursery. The plants are from seeds and cuttings taken from the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve and were nurtured at two native plant nurseries, Growing Solutions of Santa Barbara and Sea Lab in Redondo Beach.
Hanscom and Van de Hoek believe that Phase One will take the rest of the year (they’re working Saturdays and Sundays in two shifts, 9 a.m. to noon and 1:30 to 4:30 p.m). In the new year, they hope to begin Phase Two, planting on the west side of the canal. New walkways are also being created along the sides of the canal.
“We’re really tripling the width of the ecosystem,” said Van de Hoek. “Birds will fly faster and easier. Butterflies will be coming back to the habitat. New birds are being seen.”
Volunteers are still needed, both for removal of invasive weeds and clearing of debris, and for helping out at the sign-up table on Washington Boulevard at the Canal entrance. To volunteer, email [email protected] or call 310.578.5888.