Most of what remains of San Diego Bay’s historic coastal
salt marsh and intertidal mudflat habitat is preserved within these two Refuge
Units Nesting, foraging, and resting sites are managed for a diverse assembly
of birds. Waterfowl and shorebirds
over-winter or stop here to feed and rest as they migrate along the Pacific
Flyway. Undisturbed expanses of
cordgrass dominated salt marsh support sustainable populations of light-footed
Enhanced and restored wetlands provide new, high quality
habitat for fish, birds, and coastal salt marsh plants, such as the endangered
salt marsh bird’s beak. Quiet nesting areas,
buffered from adjacent urbanization, ensure the reproductive success of the threatened
western snowy plover, endangered California least tern, and an array of ground
nesting seabirds and shorebirds.
The San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge also provides the
public with the opportunity to observe birds and wildlife in their native
habitats and to enjoy and connect with the natural environment. Informative environmental education and
interpretation programs expand the public’s awareness of the richness of the
wildlife resources of the Refuge. The Refuge
serves as a haven for wildlife and the public to be treasured by this and
The San Diego National Wildlife Refuge, consisting of the
Sweetwater Marsh and South San Diego Bay Units.
Most of what remains of San Diego Bay’s historic coastal salt marsh and
intertidal mudflat habitat is preserved within these two Refuge Units.
Sweetwater Marsh Unit
Sweetwater Marsh is 316 acres in size, and was established
in 1988 on the east side of San Diego Bay.
It is located on the east side of San Diego’s south bay, and has a rich
cultural history. The Kumeyaay peoples first used the area for fishing, hunting
and gathering. On this site during World War I, a 30-acre kelp processing plant
produced potash, a key ingredient in smokeless gunpowder, for the British Army.
This is a certain area on the Refuge
called “Gunpowder Point.” Today, the refuge is not only home for native
wildlife, but is also the headquarters location for the San Diego National
Wildlife Refuge Complex.
Habitats at Sweetwater Marsh support species such as the
California least tern, Western snowy plover, Osprey, Belted kingfisher, as well
as a rare salt marsh plant found in few other places, Palmer’s frankenia.
This refuge is also the site of a very successful breeding
program for the endangered light-footed clapper rail, carried out in
partnership with the non-profit Living Coast Discovery Center, Sea World San Diego,
and the San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park. Hundreds of light-footed clapper rails
have been reared and released into the wild through this program. A variety of
native birds can be seen up close both in the aviaries and during educational
bird presentations by the nature center’s volunteers and staff. Environmental
education programs, activities and special events are offered throughout the
year by the refuge complex and the nature center. A great place to visit
South San Diego Bay
Dedicated in 1999, the 2,300-acre South San Diego Bay Unit
was established to shelter, protect and restore habitat for hundreds of
thousands of birds migrating along the Pacific Flyway, as well as for the bay’s
resident species. The South San Diego Bay Unit is located in the southernmost
tip of the San Diego Bay; within the cities of Imperial Beach, Coronado, National
City, and City of San Diego.
Eelgrass beds and the largest contiguous mudflat in southern
California provide a supermarket for overwintering waterfowl, seabirds,
shorebirds and migrating Pacific green sea turtles. The South San Diego Bay
Unit of the refuge also provides foraging and nesting habitat for thousands of
nesting seabirds in spring and summer. The unit supports such endangered and
threatened species such as the California least tern, Belding’s savannah
sparrow and western snowy plover.
Restoration of tidal flats, salt marsh, subtidal, and native
upland habitat continues to provide additional habitat essential to birds,
native plants, fish and other marine life.
The public can birdwatch, walk and ride bicycles along a
bike path around the bay or participate in monthly tours of the refuge.
Hundreds of school children use the refuge as an outdoor classroom for
refuge-sponsored environmental education programs.