Located just above California’s bight, Kenneth S. Norris Rancho Marino Reserve sits on North America’s western hinge. With Point Conception just about 90 miles south as the crow flies, this stunningly beautiful reserve is a largely untouched seaside paradise in the woods west and south of Cambria. Totaling some 500 acres, it is home to two miles of rocky shoreline, tidal pools, ocean mesa prairie, coastal live oak groves, and one of California’s last remaining natural Monterey pine forests.
Though bare bones in facilities compared to other reserves — think outhouses, outdoor showers, and tent camping — Rancho Marino makes up for its lack of creature comforts with sheer coastal magnificence and world-class biodiversity both onshore and off. More than 100 different birds have been spotted at the reserve plus nearly 200 plant species and two dozen mammal types. The convergence of northern and southern currents offshore make for an even more varied underwater biodiversity, from bull and giant kelp forests and black abalone to otters, gray whales, and sea lions. It’s also home to seven archeological sites, some dating back at least 5,000 years.
Ever wonder what the Hollister Ranch might look like without humans? Rancho Marino is a mighty fine place to start looking for the answer.
Though not technically owned by the UC, the reserve is on a regularly renewed lease that allows for UCSB to manage and conduct “university-level” research only. From harvesting algae off tidal zone rocks and exploring kelp forests to studying limpets and plots of abalone, Rancho Marino is becoming an all but mandatory port of call for UC students who study the nearshore ecosystem. But research doesn’t stop there: Efforts to understand everything from cattle grazing, beetle infestations, and Monterey pine health to the endangered red-legged frog and weather patterns are happening on the land.