True Lagoon

“In June 2000, the highly invasive Caulerpa taxifolia — the aggressive algae which has destroyed thousands of acres of the Mediterranean Sea — was discovered [in the Agua Hedionda Lagoon], most likely dumped into the lagoon from a household aquarium,” says David Mirisch, who produces celebrity fund-raising events. “The eradication of the algae from the lagoon is an ongoing project. It has been curtailed, but they have to keep having divers go down to be sure that it has not grown back.”

Mirisch is producing the First Annual Celebrity Fishing Tournament at the Agua Hedionda Lagoon in Carlsbad on Saturday, May 17. “We’re raising money to keep that Caulerpa down where it should be and to help the Discovery Center, where kids can come up and take tours,” he says. For $100, contestants can fish from one of 15 privately owned boats alongside a participating celebrity. After the tournament, a VIP luncheon will be held at the Discovery Center for people to meet and greet the celebrities (including Christopher Knight of The Brady Bunch, Christopher Atkins from The Blue Lagoon, and Adrianne Curry from America’s Next Top Model).

Caulerpa taxifolia was declared eradicated on July 12, 2006,” says Eric Munoz, president of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation. The eradication, says Munoz, cost “over a million dollars a year.” The seaweed is more harmful than other invasives because, as Munoz explains, “it is an aquarium version of a natural plant” and thus has no natural predators. “It’s like Frankenstein — it was genetically engineered in the ’70s — and they made it to be a plant that’s easy to take care of.” To eliminate this “killer seaweed,” divers covered the colonies at the base of the lagoon with plastic tarps and injected chlorine underneath.

The species that felt the brunt of the infestation were the eel grass beds. “Those eel grass beds are very important habitats for nursery grounds, lobster and bass — all kinds of fish and critters that live in the lagoon,” says biologist Steve Le Page. “When those beds were affected and being taken over by Caulerpa taxifolia, we were losing all those habitats.” Fishing was temporarily banned to protect eradication efforts. “They didn’t want people to put anchors down or hooks that might snag the tarps,” says Le Page. “The beds are coming back strong, and the latest surveys have shown most of the eel grass is back where it should be.”

Though gray smooth-hound sharks and leopard sharks frequently enter the lagoon in search of food, Le Page says their presence does not necessarily indicate that the lagoon is healthy. “Sharks are very opportunistic. They’ll come into an unhealthy lagoon because there’s a lot of things dying that they can eat.”

Le Page says that Agua Hedionda is now “a very healthy lagoon” with a wide range of fish and invertebrates. Seals and sea lions will make their way into the lagoon. “We actually had a little baby seal come in and grow up in the outer lagoon,” says Le Page. “He took a real liking to me. He would follow me around and tug at my fins — he almost became like a pet.”

According to the lagoon foundation, invasive species are not the greatest threat to the well-being of the ecosystem. “The greatest threat that the lagoon faces right now is the steward of the lagoon leaving — not having anyone capable of maintaining the tidal prism [or volume of water] in the lagoon,” says Le Page. Prior to 1952, the lagoon was no more than a foul-smelling mudflat. “That’s how it got its name — agua hedionda means ‘stinky water.’” The lagoon was built for the use of the Encina Power Station, which first dredged the area and has taken responsibility for maintenance dredging every two years since. “When the power plant came, they needed to build an intake structure,” says Le Page. “They needed to have a reservoir of water and enough tidal flushing to keep the lagoon mouth open.”

Now that the plant is scheduled to begin decommissioning some of its units, Le Page fears that without a private entity to take an interest in dredging, the lagoon will disappear. He, like other members of the foundation, hopes to see plans for a Carlsbad desalination project go through. “Having a private entity being the steward of the lagoon is far better than having local, state, or federal government being steward,” says Le Page. When the Caulerpa outbreak was discovered, $300,000 was needed immediately in order to save the lagoon. “The only way that was going to happen was if a private entity was taking control of the lagoon. If you had state, local, or federal government, it would have taken months to get the money.”

— Barbarella

Celebrity Fishing Tournament
Saturday, May 17
7 a.m. to 1 p.m. (lunch reception 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.)
Discovery Center at Agua Hedionda Lagoon
1580 Cannon Road
Cost: $35 entry fee in advance ($45 day of tournament), $100 entry fee to fish on boat with celebrity, $35 for non-contestants/VIP luncheon
Info: 760-632-7770 or www.aguahedionda.org or www.hollywoodknights.com

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