Most members of the Dorsey High School Global Warriors had never heard of the California least tern when it nested last spring on a breezy beach near Marina del Rey.
Yet like seasoned conservation biologists, the Warriors reeled off facts Saturday as they wrestled invading Cakile maritima from the sands where the rare seabird is due to return in April.
"We haven't seen them personally. But we know they're endangered," said Rosemary Virula, 17, a senior at the school in the Crenshaw district of Los Angeles.
Her weed-battling classmates knew why.
"A lot of invasive species. A lot of predators," said senior David Huesca, 18.
"Least terns are scared of weeds taller than them," added fellow senior Shellea Daniel, 17.
Sea rocket, the common name for European native Cakile maritima, can grow 16 to 24 inches tall, towering over the 9-inch-long seabird. It can cover the bare sands that the bird favors for nesting.
The plant has sent its long roots throughout the fenced-in nesting area north of the mouth of Ballona Creek, one of only two least tern nesting sites in Los Angeles County and the only one open to the public.
With nesting season less than a month away, 39 Global Warriors spent more than four hours Saturday dragging sea rocket from the sand, stuffing the tangled vegetation into more than two dozen large black plastic garbage bags and hauling them away.
The project is part of a new effort by the National Audubon Society to spark interest in birding and the environment among young people in minority neighborhoods. Traditionally known as a mostly white group, Audubon hopes to engage a more racially and ethnically mixed membership.
Dorsey High was a logical starting place for Los Angeles Audubon. Its director of interpretation, Stacey Vigallon, is married to Dorsey teacher Robert Jeffers, the English department co-chairman and advisor to the Eco-Club, a student environmental group launched last year.
The club, which students have christened Global Warriors, has swelled from 10 members last year to more than 40 today, buoyed by a hunger among students for environmental information.
"The environment isn't a subject that's discussed much by teachers," said Daniel, although she called Dorsey an exception and commended one teacher for assigning a research paper on global warming.
Climate change was very much on the minds of the students Saturday. Jesus Rubio, 17, said his concerns led him to get involved with Global Warriors more than a year ago.
"I saw on the news that global warming is not considered a real issue, and I think it is," Rubio said. Now he and his classmates are trying to do their part. They launched a successful schoolwide recycling program for waste paper and some bottles.
"We started recycling two days a week, and everyone saw what we were doing and they wanted to be part of it," said senior Lizbeth Rivas, 17.
Global Warriors have planted a garden for native plants and organic vegetables near the Dorsey track. They participated last winter in a nationwide bird count, aided by Eleanor Osgood, outreach chairwoman for Los Angeles Audubon.
In Los Angeles, birds are the most noticeable examples of wildlife, a keystone of the natural world, Osgood said.
Young people learning about birds may in turn grow more curious about the environment and more interested in saving the few remaining open spaces in the city, she said.
Some of the Dorsey students say they will seek out courses in the environment, science and public affairs in college.
Huesca plans to study conservation biology and journalism at UC Santa Cruz. Virula says she will major in communication studies at Cal State Northridge, and Rubio plans to focus on pre-med studies at UC Davis.
But first they want to be on hand when the least terns return to nest. That, they said, will be awesome.