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Salt Pond Restoration

Western Salt Pond Aerial Panoramic of ponds 10a, 10, and 11Birdwatchers, walkers, and bicyclists along the edge of San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge are witnessing the rebirth of an estuary. Terns, skimmers, pelicans, and shorebirds glide across exposed mudflats, while fish and plankton ebb and flow with the tides.

Click here for the Photo Gallery! 


As you travel along the southwestern most corner of the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge, along the Bayshore Bikeway, you will see all the new wildlife activity happening on the southwestern area of the refuge. 
Completed in the fall of 2011, the South San Diego Bay Wetlands Restoration Project has successfully reintroduced tidal action from San Diego Bay into 220 acres of former solar salt ponds located on the refuge.  The project also restored and enhanced an additional 80 acres of sensitive coastal habitats managed by the Port of San Diego at the Chula Vista Wildlife Reserve and along the edge of Emory Cove.  It was through a cooperative partnership between Federal, State, and local agencies, as well as several nonprofit organizations, that this $7.7 million restoration project was funded and completed.  Major funding was provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Restoration Center through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, with additional funds provided by the California Coastal Conservancy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Coastal Program, Port of San Diego, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's West Coast Estuaries Initiative.  The Southwest Wetlands Interpretive Association (SWIA) managed the construction contract and San Diego Audubon, Coronado Rotary Club, San Diego Oceans Foundation, and Ocean Discovery Institute all assisted with site cleanup and installation of native plants at the Port sites.   
During the construction, a floating dredge moved earth from Pond 10 into Pond 11 to create a sinuous network of channels that would serve as the main sloughs of over 200 acres of estuary in south San Diego Bay. Now the western salt ponds have been transformed into open water, intertidal habitats, and upland marsh; thereby inviting a new and diverse array of organisms to thrive there.  Once the channels were cut, and the proper elevations were achieved by the dredge, the existing levees separating these ponds from the tidal waters of the bay were breached in two places.  These ponds have not received tidal bay influence since 1960 or earlier, so it was an incredible sight to see these areas now open to tidal fluctuation in the bay.  Birds flocked to check out the new and interesting area on the first day of the breach. Over 40,000 cordgrass "plugs" were planted, and several thousand more middle and upper marsh plant species were planted during the time of the breach. 

Planting, maintenance, and monitoring activities will continue at the western salt ponds for a period of five years. Some of these planting and restoration activities in the future will involve volunteer work days and stewardship projects with our local community partners. Monitoring activities will include topography surveys using LIDAR (Light Detection And Ranging), tidal amplitude, water quality, soil sampling, benthic macroinvertebrate surveys, fish surveys, and bird surveys.
The first-year results of the project’s ongoing monitoring program verify that the restored marsh is already providing nursery habitat for fish, as demonstrated by the numbers of juvenile slough anchovy present in the tidal channels.  Round stingrays are particularly abundant, and at least one octopus has decided to set up residence within the site.  Other evidence of success includes the establishment of pickleweed and cordgrass along the higher portions of the marsh plain and the incredible numbers of shorebirds that forage at the site during low and mid tides.  It is also the hope that in the future, this habitat will attract a federally endangered species to live here: the Light-footed clapper rail.
The best views of the restoration site are from the Bayshore Bikeway, just west of 7th Street in Imperial Beach.  Although always present, birds are most abundant in the area an hour or so following the high tide.  

Historical Context

Over the past 150 years, dredging and filling operations have resulted in the loss of 42% of San Diego Bay’s historic shallow subtidal habitat, 84% of its intertidal mudflat habitat, and 70% of its salt marsh habitat.  Most of the native upland and wetland/upland transition habitat has also been lost to development.  In recognition of the need to restore the Bay’s historic coastal habitats, a partnership of local, state, federal, and non-governmental agencies was formed to seek funding for and implement a significant restoration project in south San Diego Bay. Then, this restoration project was born.
For general questions about the restoration project, please contact Kurt Roblek, 
Refuge Operations Specialist and Western Salt Pond Restoration Project Manager, 
619-575-2704 extension 334 
Last Updated: Mar 06, 2013
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