An Overview of Wildlife in Isla Vista

By Jack Smith

For many of us, Isla Vista is a small, lively town, filled with energetic college students enjoying the beach life. Beyond the people and activities, Isla vista is a home shared with many different forms of wildlife. From the ocean ecosystem, to the wildlife reserves, to those pesky raccoons, this small town is flourishing with a wide variety of animals. Here’s a quick overview of some of the creatures that can be spotted on a stroll through Isla Vista.

Snowy Plovers

If you’ve ever taken a walk down to Sands Beach you might’ve noticed the rope fencing around a section of the coast where people aren’t allowed to walk or hang out. This is home to the nesting and breeding area for snowy plovers, a small shorebird that was listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act of 1993. Since 1999, this section stretching from Isla Vista to Ellwood was designated a “critical habitat” and their population has since then been monitored on a weekly basis by the Coal Oil Point Reserve. This area is now the largest aggregation site for snowy plovers in the United States!

Leopard Sharks

These creatures are harder to spot unless you’ve been out in the water for surfing, kayaking, paddle boarding, or even just swimming. However, when you do see them you’ll probably see a lot. These 4-5 foot sharks usually travel in schools of around 50 or so and can be most easily spotted just beyond the surf zone. These sharks might frighten some people, but it is important to know that they pose little to no threat to people.

Mallard Ducks

Mallard ducks are one of the most recognizable ducks in California and are one of the most common in Isla Vista. They can most likely be spotted in parks around Isla Vista or even in natural areas around the UCSB campus, such as the lagoon.

These ducks are omnivorous and have a more flexible diet when compared to other birds. This, in combination with their ability to live in human populated areas, explains why Isla Vista has been a thriving home for them. In some cases, mallards have been observed as somewhat of an invasive species in public areas.

Tide Pools

The tide pools spotted on the beaches are some of the most biodiverse areas in Isla Vista. They are located at Coal Oil Point at Devereux Beach and can be best seen at very low tides. They are characterized by low rock formations which trap pools of water, allowing wildlife of all kinds to reside there. Large amounts of green algae and seaweed cover the area and oil deposits from the 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill can also be seen. The rocks are covered in different forms of marine life such as barnacles, mussels and aggregating anemones. This is also a great place to spot different types of feeding birds and fish when the tide is higher.

In the late 90s and early 2000s the tide pools received a lot of damage due to heavy amounts of foot traffic and party events, such as Floatopia, which drove out much of the biodiversity. Thankfully, the area has received a lot of attention from UCSB and the Coal Oil Point Reserve in recent years and has been largely restored.


Herons are another common bird in Isla Vista and on campus. Different kinds of herons that can be spotted include great blue herons, night herons, and snowy egrets.

In the first half of the 1900s these herons would nest in trees all throughout the east side of the campus and around the lagoon. However, after the construction of student housing and dining commons, much of their habitat was destroyed and their population thinned. Since then, there have been multiple restoration projects by UCSB to restore their population in the surrounding areas. Specifically in 1990, the northern edge of the lagoon was restored, reshaped with islands, and fences were put up around the lagoon to prevent excessive human interaction with the area. Since then, the heron populations have recovered and the newly protected area invited many other types of birds as well, greatly increasing the biodiversity on campus.

Raccoons, Possums, & Skunks

These three critters are less majestic than the others mentioned but are deeply integrated into the Isla Vista community. Raccoons, possums, and skunks live in bushes and hidden areas around

These three critters are less majestic than the others mentioned but are deeply integrated into the Isla Vista community. Raccoons, possums, and skunks live in bushes and hidden areas around Isla Vista. Being nocturnal, they generally can only be spotted at night foraging in trash cans and dumpsters for any food they can find.

Both raccoons and possums will hiss if approached and have a high chance of carrying diseases that can be harmful to humans. Skunks, as many of you know already, will spray a foul-smelling odor if threatened, so it’s best to keep your distance from all three of these creatures. Luckily, it is reported that their numbers have dropped in recent years due to improved trash management in Isla Vista.

Shared Home

These are just some examples of the prosperous wildlife and ecosystems that can be found in Isla Vista. I encourage current and future residents to do research and explore the wide variety of animals and nature that this small town is home to. The biodiversity has gone through many changes over its history, but with increased concerns and different restoration projects, this area can be enjoyed and studied for years to come. I urge everyone to take advantage of this with the understanding that Isla Vista is a shared home with many more living things than just humans.

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