The Salina: Why So Serious?

Seriously, what’s a salina?  Well, according to, it’s “an area of land encrusted with crystalline salt, especially a salt pan or a salt-encrusted playa” or it’s “a body of water, such as a salt marsh, spring, pond, or lake, having a high saline content”, but a salina can be much more complicated than that.  It can have characteristics of all kinds of marine, salty environments such as salt pans and salt marshes, but still be classified as a salina.  It’s a very special type of environment and we’re lucky enough to have at least one on Catalina Island right in the middle of Cherry Cove!

The salina of Cherry Cove is quite the habitat.  It has transformed from the dusty, barren area it once was into an almost completely separate ecosystem unlike the rest of Catalina Island. For the past 22 or so years, the salina has been given the freedom to grow without interference and has turned into what looks like a salt marsh, yet has characteristics of both a salt pan and a wetland.  A salt marsh is a coastal wetland that is flooded by the ocean during higher tides and emerges above the water level during lower tides.  During a low tide, all layers of the marsh can be seen, but during a high tide, everything except for the levee may be completely submerged under salt water.  The Cherry Cove salina may not fill and empty normally like a salt marsh would, but it looks almost identical to a salt marsh.

 There are pools that fill up when there are extremely high tides, mudflats, marsh flats filled with grasses, and levees filled with larger shrubs and bushes.  These tidal pools are even more special because it’s a mixture of fresh and salt water due to precipitation and runoff from the hillsides creating what we call brackish or saline waters.  The salina also has characteristics of a saltpan, which are large areas covered in salt and other minerals that are left behind after ocean water evaporates.  If you look closely at the salina, you’ll notice areas that are colored white with salt that was left behind!

With all this water and all the plants in the salina, do you think it would be safe to hypothesize that it has the ability to support animal life?  Of course!  From the osprey raptor you can find stalking the tidal pools early in the morning to the swarms of crane flies you can find surrounding the edges, the salina is bustling with life every single day.  And let’s not forget about the tiny shrews and foxes that use the tall grasses for hiding and foraging!

With all its significant qualities it’s no wonder why the salina is such a special place not just to Cherry Cove and all its inhabitants, but to Catalina Island as well.  An environment so intriguing that it looks like one thing, has characteristics of another, yet is still different enough to earn its own label.  An environment relied on by various organisms and gazed upon in awe by people such as myself.  A true wonder of nature.