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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.

NASA aerial photo of the salt ponds, Eden Landing is towards the upper left

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.

NASA Aerial View of the Cargill 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.

7 Responses to “Eden Landing Ecological Reserve”

  1. August 21st, 2011 at 7:41 am

    Randy says:

    Enjoyed the tour. Pretty amazing to see this going back to nature again in such a populated place.

  2. August 22nd, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    Tom says:

    Those colors are ridiculous. It reminds me of the thermophiles in Yellowstone

  3. August 22nd, 2011 at 7:25 pm

    ryan says:

    @Randy Yeah, it’s a surprise to see a new nature reserve in the middle of the Bay Area. It’ll be interesting to see it change over time.

    @Tom I agree. It’s hard to believe the colors are real.

  4. September 9th, 2011 at 7:52 am

    James says:

    Pretty wild. We still have active salt facilities down here in the southern reaches of San Diego Bay. I’m not sure what the ponds look like from above, but the big piles of salt look are pretty impressive in an old-school industrial sort of way with their blazing white color. Knowing of some of the pollution issues in that end of the bay, that’s sea salt I wouldn’t rush out and buy for my next meal.

  5. September 11th, 2011 at 11:25 am

    ryan says:

    I wonder about salt from the San Francisco and San Diego bays too. I don’t like to swim in that water, let alone ingest something from it. I think Cargill uses its SF bay salt on the kind of meat products that I’m unlikely to eat anyways.

  6. January 7th, 2012 at 11:29 am

    chuck b. says:

    The salt ponds at Don Edwards a little farther south, east end of the Dumbarton Bridge are cool too (I blogged about them once), but these look more interesting for a walk.

  7. January 7th, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    ryan says:

    It looks like there is more wildlife and plant interest at Don Edwards. Eden Landing is I think where they have more of the ruins of the salt facilities. I want to check out Don Edwards and Alviso further south, maybe this spring.

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