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Southern California, extending from Point Conception (34 1/2 °N) to the Tijuana estuary (32° N), has a varied and attractive coastline, with a moderate Mediterranean climate and a large human population. Rapid urban development has resulted in coastal modification for shipping, military, industrial, housing and recreational needs. Because of their flat topography and availability of water, the coastal wetlands have been the prime target for these modifications. According to Zedler (1982, p.l), the ‘disturbance has been so pervasive, taken such different forms, and had such different results in each wetland, that sorting out natural and unnatural features is extremely difficult’. Southern California coastal wetlands are small and discrete, confined to narrow river valleys, and separated by coastal hills, mountains, harbors and extensive urban tracts. There are about 30 wetlands, occupying a total area of about 12,500 acres (Fig 1) which represent about 10% of their extent prior to arrival of Europeans. The wetlands occur on intertidal slopes and along the mouth of creeks, and support a variety of salt tolerant plants, called halophytes. Poised at the edge of both land and sea, these habitats receive fresh water, sediments and nutrients from the watershed, and tidal water with its salts, minerals and sands from the sea. At some locations, coastal dunes enclose these wetlands and occasionally, sand bars form, cutting off tidal circulation. This has resulted in decimation of certain plant communities and dependant bird populations.

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