Project Rescues Wetlands from Sea Level Rise

The Takeaway: The restoration also expands otter habitat and safeguards a super-efficient “blue carbon” source, with help from the Elkhorn Slough Research Reserve.

California’s Elkhorn Slough, located 100 miles south of San Francisco Bay, features the state’s most extensive saltmarsh south of the Bay Area—but without restoration, this resource will “drown” within 50 years because of sea level rise. A 66-acre project has restored rare saltmarsh habitat and native plants while buffering marsh areas against future sea level rise. The Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve guided the project with input from 100-plus partners, scientists, regulators, and community members.

The project used 200,000 cubic yards of soil and raised 47 acres of formerly diked and drained saltmarsh. It brings the following benefits:

  • Restoration will boost available salt marsh habitat for 50 nearby sea otters to feed, rest, and raise their young. Researchers will monitor how the expanded habitat affects otter health and numbers.
  • The new, higher-set marsh area is expected to trap sediment that will help buffer the saltmarsh against sea level rise.
  • The project will help safeguard local pickleweed, which not only filters water and improves otter habitat but is a carbon-capture superstar. This is great news in California, which leads the nation in “blue-carbon” market initiatives that cut climate-heating gas emissions and boost the bottom line. Many research reserves across the nation are involved in blue carbon initiatives.
  • One partner, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Wetlands Restoration for Greenhouse Gas Reduction Program, is registering the restored site as part of California’s blue-carbon “cap-and-trade” investment.

Plans are underway to restore an adjacent 30-acre saltmarsh area. (Original story 2016/Updated 2018)

More Information: Tidal Marsh Restoration Program

Partners: California Coastal Conservancy, Elkhorn Slough Foundation, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, California Department of Water Resources’ Integrated Regional Water Management, Elkhorn Slough Foundation, Elkhorn Slough Research Reserve, Wildlife Conservation Board, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service