Goleta Slough State Marine Conservation Area (No-Take)

sandstone ledges topped with tall trees run along slow moving water flowing along a thin shoreline into the ocean


Goleta Slough State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA) (No-Take) protects a wetland system in Santa Barbara County where freshwater creeks empty into low-lying sandy soil along the Pacific Ocean. The slough is a partially enclosed body of water, and with each tidal change, the upstream network of creeks brings nutrients from the inland watershed. Where it meets the Pacific, fresh water mixes with rich upwelled sea water, supporting a productive coastal estuary.

Along the shores of the estuary are oak woodlands, riparian scrub, sage scrub, and grasslands. With such a diversity of ecosystems, this small marine protected area (MPA), covering less than one square mile, has become well known as a birding and hiking destination, offering the chance to see a great blue heron rookery, roosting black-crowned night herons, overwintering Canada geese, and Belding’s savannah sparrow. Bordered by the University of California, Santa Barbara and Goleta Beach Park, the Goleta Slough SMCA (No-Take) also overlaps the Goleta Slough Ecological Reserve.


It is unlawful to injure, damage, take, or possess any living, geological, or cultural marine resource. Take incidental to certain permitted activities may be allowed. Other restrictions may apply. See CCR T14 §632(b) (link below) for details.

California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 632(b)(100)(opens in new tab)

Quick Facts

MPA size: 0.16 square miles

Depth range: 0 to 10 feet

Habitat composition*:

  • Coastal marsh: 0.78 square miles
  • Estuary: 0.15 square miles

*Habitat calculations are based on 3-dimensional area and may exceed the total MPA area listed above.

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About Goleta Slough State Marine Conservation Area (No-Take)

Natural History

a pair of California brown pelicans on a sandy berm
Brown pelicans in Goleta Slough SMCA (No-Take). photo © E. Jacob, CC BY-NC 2.0

In the late 1800s, Goleta Slough was transformed by a combination of human changes to the landscape and natural weather events into what is now a brackish marsh tucked between the land and sea. Riparian habitats are dominant features of the sandy estuary landscape. In brackish water, striped shore crabs, yellow shore crabs, and California horn snails shelter in the quiet waters beside California killifish, topsmelt, arrow goby, western mosquitofish, and the endangered tidewater goby.

Goleta Slough is an ideal location for birding and wildlife viewing. The wetland and coastal scrub habitats are used by many species including the American oystercatcher, great blue heron, and Canada goose. Several protected, endangered, or threatened species make their home here, including the California brown pelican, American badger, and peregrine falcon.

Goleta Slough was heavily re-engineered as development increased, causing the mouth of the slough to become clogged with silt and sediment. Consequently, the slough intermittently closes off from the Pacific ocean. Recent restoration efforts have attempted to return the slough to a more natural state. Invasive plants have been cleared, allowing recovery of native species such as bulrush, cattail, pickleweed, and saltgrass. The salt marsh has been diked and filled to realign and channel the network of creeks, creating more habitat for several native wetland birds including the loggerhead shrike, horned lark, and killdeer. With restoration efforts underway, locals are hopeful that previously abundant species like steelhead trout may make a comeback.

Cultural History

calm water along steep shoreline reflects clouds during a vibrant sunset
Goleta Slough SMCA (No-Take) at sunset. photo © D. Gadal, CC BY-NC 2.0

For centuries, Native American Tribes in California have relied on marine and coastal resources. Many Native American Tribes in California continue to regularly harvest marine resources within their ancestral territories and maintain relationships with the coast for ongoing customary uses. Goleta Slough lies at the heart of Chumash ancestral territory.

Archeological records of Chumash inhabitants reveal evidence of a complex society spanning from Malibu in the south to Morro Bay in the north, as well as the Channel Islands. Chumash ancestors fostered societies of great complexity and adaptability, including well-established trade routes. Before European contact, Goleta Slough was a regional harbor for tomols, the traditional Chumash redwood plank canoes, and a major trade center. It was a key locale for the socio-politically complex Chumash peoples.

The Goleta area, like much of California, was first explored by the Spanish expedition led by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. In 1542, his voyage sailed north from Mexico to scout the coastline, where he encountered a settlement of about 1,000 people. Permanent European settlement did not occur for another 200 years with the Portola expedition and the following Mission Era. In 1870, a whaling station was built here, and served for 20 years as a launch point for whalers pursuing gray whales.


long conical snails lay in sand and pebbles
California horn snails at Goleta Slough SMCA (No-Take). photo © E. Jacob, CC BY-NC 2.0

Goleta Slough is a popular place for birdwatching, wildlife viewing, hiking, and educational field trips. From trails that journey along the wetland marsh, avid birders can find several unique species such as hooded orioles and Pacific loons. The slough empties at Goleta Beach Park, which provides beach access, restrooms, picnic tables, and playgrounds.

From November through April, gray whales are frequently seen off Goleta's coast as they migrate south from Alaska to Baja California to breed. In the springtime, you can also see them on their journey back north to feed in the rich Alaskan waters. Goleta Slough SMCA is a “No-Take” MPA, so no fishing or harvest of any kind is allowed. However, the Goleta Pier extends out from the slough and is a popular spot where fishermen regularly try for halibut, surfperch, rockfish, and bass, as it is outside the border of the SMCA. Free parking is available at the foot of the pier and in front of the restaurant.


This area includes the waters below the mean high tide line within Goleta Slough.

California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 632(b)(100)

Downloads for Goleta Slough State Marine Conservation Area


Map of Goleta Slough SMCA - click to enlarge in new tab

Facts, Map & Regulations

MPA fact sheet - click to enlarge in new tab