Wetlands Restoration for Greenhouse Gas Reduction Program: Blue Carbon at Elkhorn Slough

Sea otter

Sea otter

A substantial number of Californians live in cities that are directly on coastal shorelines. Despite the high populations around them, California coastal shorelines are some of the most threatened ecosystems because of conversions and degradation, largely driven by human activities and exacerbated by climate change. The protection and restoration of wetlands and salt marsh is a great way to help continue carbon sequestration and storage while providing coastal protection from such events as flooding to upland areas.

California’s Elkhorn Slough, located about 100 miles south of San Francisco Bay, features the state’s most extensive salt marsh, south of the Bay Area. Not only has Elkhorn Slough been described as an “environmental crown jewel” of the California central coast for hosting a rich diversity of plants and animals, it was recently recognized as a Wetland of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. However, without restoration, this resource will “drown” within 50 years because of sea level rise.

The Blue Carbon at Elkhorn Slough Project is restoring 66 acres of rare salt marsh habitat and native plants while buffering the surrounding areas against future sea level rise. The Tidal Wetland Program at the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve guided the project with input from more than 100 local partners, scientists, regulators, and community members. Almost half of the project cost was funded by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Wetlands Restoration for Greenhouse Gas Reduction Program, part of California Climate Investments.

In addition to its carbon storage benefits, the Blue Carbon Project at Elkhorn Slough also provides jobs and income to local economies, improves water quality, supports fish and wildlife, and extends coastal protection. Other benefits include:

  • Helping safeguard local populations of pickleweed, a low-growing, succulent, perennial subshrub which not only filters water and improves fish and wildlife habitat but also is excellent at capturing and holding carbon. This is great news for California, which leads the nation in “blue-carbon” market initiatives that cut climate-heating gas emissions and boost the bottom line.

  • Boosting available salt marsh habitat for a diverse assemblage of estuarine species such as sea otters to feed, rest, breed, and raise their young.

  • Ensuring future protection: The restored, higher-set marsh area is expected to trap sediments that will help buffer the salt marsh against sea level rise.