As part of the South Bay Salt Ponds Restoration Project, I had a chance to volunteer with Save the Bay to help restore former salt ponds in Eden Landing to the thriving wetlands they were many years ago. This project is one of the most biologically significant habitat restoration projects in the Bay Area.
For the first half of the twentieth century, the southern shoreline of San Francisco Bay was used for salt production. However, in recent years, organizations in California started working on a $1 billion project to restore the ponds into healthy wetlands. These wetlands would greatly benefit the fish and wildlife in San Francisco Bay, as well as connect Bay Area residents with shoreline spaces for public recreation.
During the Gold Rush, settlers and gold-seekers from all over the United States were pouring into California in hopes of quickly getting rich from gold. Not everyone was successful in finding gold all the time, so some people started to make a living using other means. One of these other means was the production of salt, which could be collected from the salty bay water. Settlers started creating salt ponds, cornered off areas where seawater could evaporate, in an attempt to collect the salt that stayed behind. Industrial salt production became very productive and profitable, and business grew all around the San Francisco Bay shoreline. As more and more people settled into the area, the population grew and settlements began to encroach on shoreline space.
Recently, however, people started to realize the importance of the shoreline space, especially to widlife and the residents of the Bay Area. These shoreline spaces are important to the area because of several reasons. Seven out of 10 fish caught in California depend on wetland habitats. Wetlands help generates tourism money, and they also act as natural sponges, soaking up large quantities of water runoff during storms, thereby helping to prevent floods. These wetlands also help to filter water and curb global warming. In addition, marshes in and around the wetland area are habitat to endangered species such as the California clapper rail and the salt marsh harvest mouse. Furthermore, seasonal wetlands are favorite spots for migrating birds. They also provide a nursery and foraging habitat for fish species, and the mudflats teeming with invertebrates are an important feeding area for shorebirds. In many ways like these, wetlands contribute greatly to the health and biodiversity of the bay.
Starting with the salt ponds at Eden Landing, people are working to restore more than 15,000 acres of diked ponds. This would help the Bay ecosystem and provide recreation opportunities to those residents who had been disconnected from the beautiful San Francisco Bay shoreline. After some levees were breached (so the natural tides could flow back), the restoration work began. While volunteering at Eden Landing, I participated in activities typical to a restoration project. Removing debris and invasive species like the iceplant (which was growing very abundantly) was important, because only after that could the native species be planted and expected to thrive. While digging up tough iceplants or watering seedlings of replanted native species, I felt happy knowing that I was part of this large project that was helping re-awaken a dormant bay.
The picture below is of an area that has been successfully restored.
To view videos about the bay restoration project, visit the South Bay Restoration Project's video and audio page