Jessica, Jenni, Chuan, and Wendy searching for sea turtles along the San Gabriel River. Photos by Jenni Zell.

Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of exploring the Lower San Gabriel River and Los Cerritos Wetlands with colleagues, students, and Professor Barry Lehrman of Cal Poly Pomona. We abandoned our computers for the day to  set out to explore the waterways by kayak, bicycle, and on foot with the express purpose of direct and unmediated experience of this landscape, and also to collect primary perceptions to inform meaningful design.

I was there for adventure and to provide support AHBE’s collaborative studio with fourth-year landscape architecture students at Cal Poly Pomona. The students are spending their winter term exploring the speculative transformation of the AES Alamitos and the DWP Haynes power generating facilities from fossil fuel burning behemoths into something still yet unimagined (my colleague Brett Miller wrote about the collaboration).

Jessica and Chuan in the San Gabriel River channel. Photos by Jenni Zell.

The AHBE staff is playing a mentorship role again, collaborating with the senior Cal Poly Pomona studio to work together on a Long Beach remediation project exploring …

As we rode our bicycles along the levee of the soft-bottomed channel of the San Gabriel River we witnessed dozens of large silvery fish jumping out of the river with the seeming symmetry and choreography of a Busby Berkeley dance. Biologist Eric Zahn later informed me the fish were striped mullet, a species of fish commonly found in coastal estuaries and in the lower reaches of coastal streams.

Wendy and Chuan stopping to check out where the river channel transitions from a concrete lined waterway to a soft-bottomed flow.

But, why were these fish jumping? Striped mullet are known to feed on organic detritus like diatoms, bacteria, and micro-invertebrates. The fish were not trying to catch insects for food; and unlike topsmelt, which jump to avoid being eaten, the stripped mullet are about 18” and 3 pounds in size and had little need to jump to escape predators. According to Eric, we don’t really know why the fish jump.

During our bicycle ride we also observed several Pacific green sea turtles, a docile species occasionally found swimming in the San Gabriel River.

It is essential for landscape architects to know the occurrence and distribution of plant and animal communities in order to protect and restore critical ecosystem functions and to better understand how plants and animals respond to various conditions. The relationship between ecological science and design must be strengthened in our profession. AHBE’s collaboration with Cal Poly Pomona students is one effort to focus on the complex infrastructure of human modification and natural systems.

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