California's coastal habitats face existential threat from rising seas

Climate change is transforming the state’s coast but with habitats hemmed in by cliffs, condos and farms, pre-emptive action is needed to preserve biodiversity

The sea otters of Elkhorn Slough float by on their backs, greeting the occasional kayaker with unwanted socializing that can tip a boat. Chubby harbor seals lounge on large rocks and a great blue heron stands tall among hundreds of birds on a sliver of land.

This Monterey Bay estuary south of San Francisco hosts about 20,000 migratory shorebirds a year and is a nursery habitat for fish and shellfish. It’s notable for having bolstered the waning population of the curious southern sea otters, which now exceed 100 and are webcast live daily.

California is one of the most biodiverse states and its coast hosts most of its native species. Estuaries like Elkhorn Slough, where saltwater and freshwater meet, also filter pollution, reduce flooding and erosion and trap greenhouse gases.

But as the seas encroach due to climate change and rising water levels, governments and conservationists are asking themselves: where will the coastal habitats go?

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