West Coast
Elkhorn Slough contains California’s largest tidal salt marsh south of San Francisco. The slough is important habitat for many significant marine and terrestrial plants and animals native to California, as well as for birds and marine mammals who migrate through the region. (Elkhorn Slough Foundation)

CA - NOAA approves $2.2M to restore Elkhorn Slough

MOSS LANDING – The restoration of Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve will get an infusion of new funding to support the initiative from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Coastal Management Office, the Elkhorn Slough Foundation announced last week.

The $2.2 million in funding comes from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law with funding leveraged by the Inflation Reduction Act. It aims to bring back species across an entire coastal landscape – from coastal grasslands to tidal salt marsh, eelgrass beds to native oysters, according to a press release from the foundation.

“With this effort, we’re using a holistic approach to put the puzzle pieces of an ecosystem together and restore an entire coastal landscape,” said Reserve Manager Dave Feliz in the release.

This restoration will take place on the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, owned and managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in partnership with NOAA and the Elkhorn Slough Foundation.

More than 90% of California’s wetlands have vanished over the past century, according to the release. Today, Elkhorn Slough features the most extensive salt marshes in California south of San Francisco Bay. Yet without intervention, its remaining marshes are projected to be lost within 50 years due to rising sea levels, subsidence, and tidal erosion according to the release.

Tidal salt marshes filter impurities from runoff, recycle nutrients, provide critical habitat, and serve as cradles of biodiversity to young fish, invertebrates, and other wildlife. These marshes are a key part of the ecosystem at Elkhorn Slough that supports more than 340 bird, 550 marine invertebrate and 102 fish species.

Over the past century, the coastal landscapes around this estuary have been highly altered, with habitat lost to diking and species affected by pollution. Iconic species such as pickleweed, eelgrass, and oysters play vital roles in supporting fish, birds, and sea otters as well as in taking up carbon dioxide and pollutants. Bringing back these species is critical because they each form the foundation of a distinctive coastal habitat, and this effort will employ a unique restoration approach for each species.

Salt marsh will be returned to an area where it was lost due to diking. Dikes cut off tidal waters and led to soils drying out and sinking too low for marsh to grow after the dikes were breached. To reverse this, soil is being scraped from a nearby fallowed farm to raise the elevation back up high enough to support marshes.

“We are building this marsh high enough to last in the face of rising seas, long after most other marshes in the estuary have drowned,” said the Reserve’s Tidal Wetland Program Director Monique Fountain in the release. Fountain is heading up the restoration project as part of a larger, ongoing marsh restoration initiative.

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