The Elkhorn Slough features the most extensive salt marshes in California south of San Francisco Bay, yet without restoration its marshes are projected to drown within 50 years due to sea level rise. Elkhorn Slough Reserve's Tidal Wetland Program is taking action to give our salt marshes a fighting chance.
After years of planning, funding and permitting, earth-moving equipment is adding soil to raise 61 acres of former salt marsh to an elevation that allows marsh plants to return and keep pace with projected sea level rise.
Led by Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve’s Tidal Wetland Program, the restoration project is guided by input from more than 100 scientific advisors, environmental regulators, and community members.
The construction phase of the $3 million restoration project is expected to last another six months. Then, Reserve researchers will focus on monitoring natural revegetation of the marsh, and measuring the role marshes play in greenhouse gas reduction by absorbing carbon dioxide.
Recent research documents high rates of carbon being stored in the marshes of the Elkhorn Slough for thousands of years. Salt marshes are particularly effective because the carbon they capture gets buried indefinitely. This “blue carbon” is incorporated into soils as marshes build upward, tracking sea level rise.
Researchers will also be monitoring the effects of salt marsh restoration on Southern sea otters. In the last twenty years, about 50 otters have colonized healthy salt marsh neighboring Hester Marsh restoration site. Restoring Hester Marsh will double available salt marsh habitat in a part of the slough where sea otters feed, rest, and raise their pups.
Funding for this project was provided by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Wetlands Restoration for Greenhouse Gas Reduction Program, a statewide program that puts Cap-and-Trade dollars to work reducing greenhouse gas emissions; the California State Coastal Conservancy; the California Department of Water Resources Integrated Water Resource Management Program; the Wildlife Conservation Board; and the US Fish & Wildlife Service National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Program.