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New funding will help protect and restore the coastal wetlands at Elkhorn Slough.

An aerial view of the Elkhorn Slough.

Posted on May 17, 2023

If you’ve never visited the Elkhorn Slough, you should. It’s one of the most incredible places on the Central Coast to view wildlife—especially birds—and is home to the most extensive salt marshes in California south of the San Francisco Bay. It’s a haven for the natural world amidst our built environment, one that was nearly transformed into an industrial wasteland decades ago but for the efforts of environmental activists. But that’s another story—sort of.

David Schmalz here, with news to share about the Elkhorn Slough that will help this ecological treasure weather the effects of climate change, which is something I think about a lot, as it represents an existential threat to human civilization. I would argue most humans don’t think about it enough.

But that’s not the case at Elkhorn Slough, where a partnership between the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve and nonprofit Elkhorn Slough Foundation has worked for decades to protect the ecological treasure.

On April 21, NOAA announced $2.2 million in funding to go toward restoring coastal wetlands in the slough to help bring it back to its natural state, and ultimately, to weather sea level rise. The money comes from the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act.

Statewide, more than 90 percent of historical wetlands have been lost over the past century, for a variety of reasons, and that’s been the case for over 50 percent in the Elkhorn Slough, too. The remaining wetlands in Elkhorn Slough are projected to be lost to sea level rise in the next 50 years.

The project the federal funding will go toward is to restore wetlands that were lost due to subsidence—essentially, tidal marshes were dammed off decades ago for pasture, and the soil, which acts like a sponge, sunk when it was starved from water. It will set them up to thrive in the decades to come—already, about 40,000 plants have been planted, and about 360,000 cubic yards of dirt have been moved to the 122 acres of the restoration project, which is now set to move into its third phase since beginning in 2011. It will hopefully bring the land back to a place where the wetlands can not only be brought back, but also restore the land back a place where those wetlands can migrate up in elevation as the icebergs in the Arctic cook.

This $2.2 million will usher in that third phase—which will involve putting in about another 130,000 cubic yards of dirt, among other things—and will be critical in restoring a salt marsh ecosystem that, per the Elkhorn Slough Foundation, is home to more than 340 bird, 550 marine invertebrate and 102 fish species.

That is an extraordinary amount of biodiversity. Let’s hope the project succeeds, as there are no easy solutions to adapting to climate change—we just have to chip away, and make progress where we can.


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