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Massive 50-year restoration project to give new life to west coast shoreline: ‘It’s just learning, and applying what you learn’

Photo Credit: South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project

Posted on April 29, 2024

A restoration project in California’s South Bay aims to restore the area’s wetlands, which were taken over for commercial salt production.

As Reasons to be Cheerful detailed, around 15,000 acres are being reclaimed that were used for salt harvesting for around 150 years. The initiative is expected to help migratory birds and endangered species and provide natural coastline protection in the face of rising sea levels as a result of human-caused global heating.

The project was formed in 2003, but work officially began in 2009, starting with the creation of nesting islands for birds, revegetation and regrowth of tidal marsh, and providing a connection on the San Francisco Bay Trail between Sunnyvale and Mountain View. The whole project is expected to span 50 years, and plans may alter depending on data gathered during regeneration processes.

“It’s just learning, and applying what you learn,” executive project manager Dave Halsing told Reasons to be Cheerful. “People used to think that we could just create the exact system we wanted in nature [but] these are complex systems with a lot of uncertainty and a lot of variability, and humans have short memories so we don’t always get things right.”

As of April 2024, over 3,000 acres of shoreline have been restored to tidal marsh, while 700 acres have been transformed into managed habitats.

While restoration of the land is the goal, project managers understand that keeping some salt ponds is important to support the animals that use them for feeding and breeding.

Among the creatures that will be supported are birds like the threatened snowy plover and the endangered Ridgway’s rail, while the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse is also being prioritized.

Humans will also benefit from the restoration project. According to the National Ocean Service, the West Coast is set to experience a sea-level rise of between 4 and 8 inches over the next 30 years, and the return of wetlands will help to protect people in the Bay Area from flooding risks.

As Reasons to be Cheerful observed, wetlands can help to absorb floodwater and storm runoff, which will also be important as storms and hurricane conditions could become more intense if our planet’s temperatures continue to rise.

The South Bay project is one of many restoration efforts worldwide to reverse natural changes made by humans that have negatively impacted ecosystems. In Western Oregon, for example, a river that had been redirected by a berm was restored to its natural flow, and with the berm’s removal, beavers and turtles returned and it’s hoped salmon will make their way back to historic breeding grounds.

Meanwhile, a river restoration project in London, England, helped with the return of the brown trout, which had not been seen in the area for over 80 years.


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