After five years of drought, southern California has finally received some much-needed rain. Many creeks have been dry and disconnected from their estuaries and the ocean this year due to drought. Now, the water is flowing again! This is a welcome reprieve for the highly endangered southern steelhead trout that can now swim upstream to their spawning grounds.
At Arroyo Sequit Creek in Malibu, California, biologists were elated to discover an endangered southern steelhead adult trout looking for a place to spawn during a snorkel survey.
“We have been working to restore Arroyo Sequit creek with the anticipation that steelhead would return with the rain to access 4.5 miles of great spawning habitat. We were literally in tears when we saw a 20-inch steelhead trout making its way up the creek in late January. Only a handful of steelhead has been observed in this area over the last ten years,” said Stacie Smith, a marine habitat specialist for NOAA’s Restoration Center.
Biologists are keeping a close eye on several watersheds and creeks that have been restored in recent years. In the Carpinteria Creek watershed, we’ve helped to remove 11 man-made barriers since 2001. Biologists are using sonar cameras in hopes of capturing a glimpse of migrating steelhead. These monitoring efforts will help us demonstrate how watershed-scale projects like this one are important to steelhead recovery.
Southern steelhead have the ability to choose where they spawn, unlike salmon, which gives them some versatility during drought conditions. But steelhead were still unable to spawn or enter the ocean along most of the coast during the most recent southern California drought. Many streams, still blocked by man-made barriers, also limit the amount of habitat available for steelhead in this area.
“The heavy rains are definitely bringing life back to our creeks in some parts of southern California. We are hoping that southern steelhead will finally benefit from our work,” said Smith.