Eden Landing Ecological Reserve
Last week I went to Eden Landing Ecological Reserve, a new reserve in the former salt ponds you see as you get on the San Mateo Bridge heading west. It’s part of the larger South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project, the biggest wetlands project in California. Strange place, and very different from my mental images of the bay area. I still can’t quite wrap my brain around the idea of the Bay Area as one of the world’s major salt producers. Actually, though, it’s a natural result of the topography (south of Hayward, the bay averages only 1-3 feet in depth) and the dry-summer climate. Salt forms naturally in the shallow areas of the bay and has been harvested since the times of the Ohlone. The first salt ponds were built in the 1850’s and were developed like other forms of agriculture, small plots consolidating into larger and larger ones. Nowadays, Cargill, the giant corporation that’s currently recalling ground up turkey, is the last one still producing salt, 650,000 tons per year according to their website. In 2003, they consolidated their production and sold/donated-for-tax-write-offs over 15,000 acres (25 square miles) which are slowly being turned into nature reserves.
Eden Landing is only recently opened to the public and is still a work in progress. There are levee roads to walk on, former ponds in various stages of restoration, lots of birdlife, weedy pioneer plants with a few new native plantings at the margins, and the ruins of one of the salt production facilities. It’s the kind of landscape that is rather bleak in full sunlight, but beautiful in the first and last hours of the day.
The main focus of the restoration project has been to open the dikes and return the landscape to tidal wetlands and create habit for endangered wildlife such as snowy plover, clapper rail, black rail, and salt marsh harvest mouse. I only saw the more common species of wetland birds, but lots of those. The ruins of the salt works and about 10% of the salt ponds are going to be kept as a remnant of the site’s history and as photographer bait.
The ponds are most striking when you look down on them from the sky and see the colors of the micro-organisms living in the water. Different colors form depending on the salinity of the water: green, rust brown, orange, milky pink, and at the highest salinity a shocking purple. I could see rust in one pool and pink in another when I leaned out over them and looked downward. The NASA aerial photo below is completely untouched; those are the natural colors of the ponds.
QUEST did a segment on the project, focusing on the southernmost of the three sites, Alviso:
One of the areas that I saw on my visit (but didn’t photograph) was opened to Alameda Creek this week and will soon be opened to the bay.
— Addendum 1/7/12 — Chuck B. at My Back 40 Feet has a collection of posts on the Bay Area salt ponds and photos from a visit to Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge a little bit further south, worth a look.
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