By CBSLA Staff

HUNTINGTON BEACH (CBSLA) — Fish and Wildlife officials say an increase in visitors to the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach has led to a rise in vandalism, trash and incidents like the crashing of a drone that caused thousands of elegant terns to abandon their nest site.

(credit: California Department Of Fish And Wildlife)

The nearly 1,500-acre Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve is home to 800 species of plants and animals, 23 of which are threatened or endangered, including the Western Snowy Plover, California Least Tern, Ridgway’s Rail, and the Belding’s Savannah Sparrow. The reserve also features five miles of trails through the Bolsa Chica Wetlands, the largest saltwater marsh between Monterey Bay and the Tijuana River Estuary.

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Because Bolsa Chica is an ecological reserve, there are strict rules in place to protect the habitat and the wildlife including no bikes, no dogs, and no drones. Camping and picnicking are not allowed, and officials say it’s especially crucial that visitors stay on designated trails.

But in recent months, Fish and Wildlife officials have seen an increase in violations, especially after hours – signs and fences destroyed, graffiti, trash, and plants and animals being illegally harvested or taken from the reserve. Dogs have been allowed to roam free, which officials say has a significant impact on wild birds that are breeding, nesting, and migrating.

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(credit: California Department Of Fish And Wildlife)

In one particularly egregious incident, a drone crashed in the reserve, causing thousands of elegant terns to leave their nest site and abandon the eggs that were being incubated. Wildlife officers were able to identify and cite the operator of another drone that was landed at the reserve.

“While CDFW understands the attraction of this beautiful facility, the agency is urging visitors be more protective of the sensitive habitats and wildlife species that exist at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve,” the agency said in a statement.

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Fish & Wildlife say they plan to have a stronger presence at the reserve going forward, with officers authorized to issue citations to people found breaking the posted rules.