Elkhorn Slough boosted by $1 million grant

A recent $1 million grant will be used to restore 63 acres of the Hester Marsh at the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve in Moss Landing. — Contributed

MOSS LANDING — The United States Fish and Wildlife Service on May 8 approved $1 million in federal funds that will go to the California Coastal Conservancy to support a second round of coastal wetland restoration at Elkhorn Slough.

In 2015, USFWS granted $1 million to support Phase I of restoration at the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve’s (ESNERR) Hester Marsh, which raised 61 acres of drowning marsh to an elevation that supports healthy marsh habitat and will withstand projected changes in sea level. 

Phase II will restore another 63 acres, including reviving 54 acres of tidal marsh, four acres of new marsh and five acres of coastal grassland.

“This project is a great illustration of the power of conservation partnerships,” said Reserve Manager Dave Feliz. “Federal and State agencies working with a local nonprofit have delivered a remarkable project that will continue with Phase II, building wetlands that will adapt to rising seas.”

The grant falls under the National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program.

In addition to restoring critical habitat for federally listed southern sea otters, the project will support the migration of birds along the Pacific Flyway and the food web that supports them, officials said.

Reserve researchers are also monitoring improvements to water quality and the capacity of tidal marshes to capture large quantities of carbon dioxide and trap the carbon underground to alleviate climate change.

More than 90 percent of California’s wetlands have vanished over the past century, officials said. Today the Elkhorn Slough features the most extensive salt marshes in California south of San Francisco Bay, yet without restoration the remaining marshes are projected to drown within 50 years due to rising sea levels.

“These marshes are a key part of the rich ecosystem at Elkhorn Slough that supports more than 340 bird, 550 marine invertebrate and 102 fish species,” said Tidal Wetland Program Director Monique Fountain.

ESNERR is one of 29 reserves established nationwide to support long-term research, water-quality monitoring, environmental education and coastal stewardship. Elkhorn Slough Foundation is a community-supported nonprofit land trust whose mission is to conserve and restore the Elkhorn Slough and its watershed.

ESF protects 4,000 acres of rare habitat including oak woodlands, coastal prairie, maritime chaparral and wetlands.

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