About Us

Students monitor Younger Lagoon with a seine net.

The land on which we gather is the unceded territory of the Awaswas-speaking Uypi Tribe. The Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, comprised of the descendants of indigenous people taken to missions Santa Cruz and San Juan Bautista during Spanish colonization of the Central Coast, is today working hard to restore traditional stewardship practices on these lands and heal from historical trauma.

The University of California Natural Reserve System is a unique assemblage of 41 protected wild land sites throughout California. The reserves encompass nearly all of the state's major ecosystems, preserved in as undisturbed a condition as possible to support University-level research and teaching programs. The four NRS sites that form the UC Santa Cruz unit are spread along 60 miles of the central coast: Año Nuevo Island Reserve (25 acres), Landels-Hill Big Creek Reserve (4,200 acres), Fort Ord Natural Reserve (606 acres), Younger Lagoon Reserve (72 acres). The UCSC NRS also administers the UCSC Campus Natural Reserve (400 acres).

Younger Lagoon Reserve represents a unique reserve within the UCSC’s Natural Reserve portfolio.  The location of the reserve (directly adjacent to UCSC’s Marine Science Campus on the urban westside of town) provides unparalleled opportunities for students to learn about the environment, implement field projects, obtain hands-on experience, and become actively involved in research and stewardship projects.  As a result, the Reserve serves as an outdoor classroom and living laboratory for hundreds of UCSC students and dozens of faculty on an annual basis.  Additionally, a portion of the reserve has also become an informal recreational resource, highly valued and much used by campus and local community members. 

Younger Lagoon Reserve is comprised of two parts: the original 25-acre lagoon, and the 47-acre "Terrace Lands".  

Younger Lagoon itself is one of the few relatively undisturbed wetlands remaining on the California Central Coast.  The original 25-acre lagoon portion of the reserve encompasses the remnant Y-shaped lagoon on the open coast just north of Monterey Bay.  Portions of a freestanding sea wall remain.  Most of the time, the lagoon is cut off from the ocean by a barrier sand and rock bar.  Infrequently, the mouth of Younger Lagoon opens to ocean waters.  The lagoon and original Long Marine Laboratory properties were given to the University in 1973 by Mr. and Mrs. Donald and Marion Younger.  The lagoon area is available for teaching and research activities, and accessible to the general public via free guided tours led by docents from the Seymour Marine Discovery Center

Prior to their incorportion into Younger Lagoon Reserve, the 47-acre Terrace Lands were farmed for nearly 70 years.  YLR staff and student interns are working to restore this former agricultural land to native grassland, scrub and seasonal wetland habitats over a 20-year period.  Restoration efforts require extensive weed control, propagation of native plants, planting and maintenance efforts (similar to farming or gardening, but in a wild-land setting).  Each quarter, the reserve sponsors dozens of undergraduate interns who participate in all aspects of restoration and stewardship activities.  The Terrace Lands are available for teaching and research activities, and accessible via a network of public trails that are open from dawn till dusk.  There are overlooks and bilingual interpretative panels (English and Spanish) along the trails.

Although relatively small in size and surrounded by agricultural and urban development on three sides, Younger Lagoon Reserve is comprised of eight unique habitat types, including freshwater marsh, saltwater marsh, riparian willow, coastal strand (back dune), coastal scrub, coastal grassland, seasonal freshwater wetlands, and the brackish lagoon.  Younger Lagoon Reserve provides protected habitat for 100 resident and migratory bird species.  Approximately 25 species of water and land birds breed in the lagoon area, while more than 60 migratory bird species overwinter or stop there to rest and feed.  Bobcats, coyotes, opossums, weasels, brush rabbits, harvest mice, the California red legged frog, tidewater goby, and threespine stickleback also reside at the reserve.