Where are the Ballona Wetlands?

The Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve is a nearly 600-acre open space in the middle of the Los Angeles County coast. The Reserve is surrounded by the communities of Westchester, Marina del Rey and Playa Vista, and lies close to LAX airport and Loyola Marymount University. Today’s ecological reserve is the remnant of a much larger wetland complex that once stretched all the way north to Venice Beach and inland to La Cienega Blvd.

What Do We Know About the Wetlands Now?

There is a mix of wetlands and uplands at the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve, and most of it is not healthy. For many years, people studied small parts of the Reserve. Now for the first time, the state has studied the entire Reserve, to better understand what is there and what condition it’s in. Data on plants, animals, water and soil continues to be collected throughout the entire Reserve. Reports are free to download here.

An Introduction to the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve

Are There Marshes or Swamps?

There is very little wetland left at the Reserve today. There is salt marsh in the southern portion of the Reserve, where narrow channels were cut by machines over 50 years ago. There is only limited flow of water in and out, because of the concrete banks that contain Ballona Creek. Growth of the native pickleweed is constrained by the choking off of natural water flows.

What Are Uplands?

Wetlands are linked to the higher elevation lands all around them. These drier areas are referred to as uplands. Upland habitats are very important to the health of wetlands. They are critical to the life cycles of different wetlands animals. For example, many birds such as the Long-Billed Curlew or Northern Harrier use wetland areas to forage for food but require upland areas and trees for nesting or roosting. The South Coast Marsh Vole needs wetland habitats to thrive, but moves to adjacent uplands to forage or find refuge from high tides.

To fulfill their critical role in the life cycles and food webs of wetlands species, upland habitats need to have a high percentage of native plants that can be used by our local wildlife for food and shelter. Local animals may not survive if upland habitats are badly damaged by neglect, trash, and invasive plants. These impacts result in upland habitats of very low quality.

Upland area at the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve

Upland areas also provide an important buffer for wetland habitats. They protect wetland wildlife from the effects of nearby development, including traffic, lights, noise, and other impacts of the urban environment.

Upland buffers may also prevent damage to nearby properties from sea level rise, and provide space for wetlands to migrate to higher elevations if sea levels rise as predicted. Without this transition space, many wetland areas will drown from rising sea levels and be lost forever.

What About All the Plants?

More than half of the Reserve is covered in weeds (non-native plants) that do not make good homes for native birds and wildlife. Every year, we see weeds like mustard, euphorbia and iceplant taking over more and more of the habitat at the Reserve. Some adaptable animals such as herons and coyotes can still survive here, but more sensitive species are barely hanging on, or are already gone.

What About Endangered Species?


Some threatened animals still thrive at the reserve, such as the beautiful monarch butterflies and great horned owls that live in the large grove of eucalyptus trees along the bluffs west of Lincoln Boulevard. These and other sensitive species – the Belding’s savannah sparrow, the legless lizard, the El Segundo Blue Butterfly and more – need to be protected and nurtured at the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve.

What Was Here Before?

Following years of habitation by Native Americans, The Ballona Creek Watershed Historical Ecology Report tells the story of the local landscape as it existed just prior to major modifications by European settlers. It describes historical wetlands, creeks, springs, lagoons and other features of a more natural Ballona Creek watershed. The time period described is 1850-1890, before Ballona Creek was straightened, the wetlands were filled with dumped soils, and the landscape was fundamentally changed by other development.