Neck outstretched, its sleepy head frozen in air, a saucer-sized painted turtle basks on a rock--oblivious to the threats to its habitat and to human efforts to save its life.
Along with the koi, crayfish and other turtles at Wilderness Park in Redondo Beach, this relaxed reptile faces relocation as city officials get ready to drain the critters' homes: two ponds whose clay bottoms are leaking.
After discussions about releasing the animals in Alondra Park near Lawndale fell through, Redondo Beach Mayor Barbara Doerr and City Clerk John Oliver found a sanctuary for them at Harbor Lake in Harbor City. Now they want help transporting them when reconstruction begins next spring.
Saving the Guppies
"It's sort of like save the whales, except they're guppies," said Oliver, who has about 30 volunteers and is looking for more. The two ponds are believed to contain more than 500 crawfish, about 100 koi--a type of goldfish--and a dozen turtles.
According to park ranger Harold Helfgott, water has started leaking through the bentonite clay under the ponds. A three-month project to refloor the ponds with concrete-like Gunite will cost the city about $100,000, said Mazin Azzawi, director of the city engineering department. The City Council is expected to approve the work soon.
Every year more than 30,000 campers and picnickers visit the park, an 11-acre patch of wilderness that offers the only overnight campsites in the South Bay, Oliver said.
Formerly a federal Nike missile-tracking radar site, and before that a lookout point for Chowigna Indians, the park at Knob Hill Avenue and Sepulveda Boulevard forms part of the El Segundo Sand Hills that stretch north to Playa del Rey.
An oasis of nature in a desert of suburban concrete, the park is a refuge for nesting blue herons, ring-tailed hawks and kingfishers. But most of the turtles, fish and six-inch-wide bullfrogs that live among the lily pads and reeds were pets released by children.
Although the greenery and pond system were put in by the city, "whatever is in here came here by itself or in somebody's pocket," said Bob Atkinson, director of parks and recreation.
Atkinson, who plans to restock the ponds when they are completed, is confident that any wildlife scared away by construction activity will be familiar enough with the site to return.
At first, Oliver said, there were no plans to save the animals that would be displaced by the work.
"We were all appalled," said Rebecca Bostrom of the Redondo Beach Historical Society, who learned of the project in September when Oliver gave the group a presentation on the park's history.
"Just to let them die is negligent," Bostrom said, adding that the rescue mission would be "a great way to show the kids that ecology is not just removing toxic messes but being responsible for life that we encourage."
Among the volunteers is 7-year-old Jamie Eubanks, whose camping trips at Wilderness Park have been highlighted by crawdad-fishing expeditions, using string tied around a bait of bacon.
She usually throws them back. Now, she said, she must cart them away from the ponds, "or they will die."
"The turtles are my favorite because I have one," she added.
Like many of the young volunteers, Jamie was signed up by her parents.
Larry Siebel of Redondo Beach volunteered his whole family.
"I really think it's neat, a community coming together on an issue," said Siebel, who said he received a call from senior citizens at a local retirement home wanting to know what they could do.
Oliver said it won't be pretty. "We'll have to slosh through the mud and catch frogs," he said. "It'll probably be a weekend thing, and we might have a barbecue after we save all the fish. . . . "