Understanding California’s Coastal Wetlands

Coastal wetlands in California

There are a number of coastal wetlands in California and they include various natural communities of terrestrial, semi-aquatic and aquatic habitats resulting from flooding. Flooding is caused by rainfall as well as runoff and tidal waters and these wetlands provide a home for many endangered species and other wildlife. During times of migration there are literally hundreds of thousands of different birds that migrate along the Pacific Flyway. They land in coastal wetland areas to search for food and shelter. In addition to the importance of the wetlands for wildlife, they also provide a link between the sea and land as they allow organic material to be transported from one to the other. Water flow throughout coastal wetlands circulates waste as well as food and nutrients and wetlands provide a buffer for storms that can ultimately reduce the amount of shoreline erosion that is experienced. To say that wetlands are important would be quite an understatement and it is essential that citizens understand just how important these areas are to the environment in general. Most of the wetlands located in California are estuaries or the end of a river where it meets the sea. These estuaries contain very salty water and develop salt marshes. Freshwater marshes are much less common on the California shoreline although they do form in slower moving streams and ponds. Freshwater marshes are typically inhabited by herbaceous plants and various other vegetation. They have mineral soils that are not as fertile as the soils found in salt marshes. Studies have shown that healthy salt marshes can produce up to ten times more oxygen and carbohydrate biomass for each acre than a wheat field of the same size. The plants in marshes capture energy from the sun and fungi and bacteria help to break down animal and plant matter and recycle nutrients found in them. The material formed by this breakdown is then transported throughout the waterway which causes mudflats to become rich in organic foods and inorganic nutrients. This helps to support the food chain of the marsh. The percentage of wetlands along the coastline in California has diminished significantly since the mid 1800’s. Nearly 90 percent of the those wetlands are now gone and the ones that are left are in extreme danger of being destroyed due to things like pollution, landfills, disturbance by humans and other events. There is however, a growing awareness of the importance of these wetlands and the habitat that is found there and this is leading to efforts by many to restore wetlands that have previously been depleted and to protect those that are still in existence. There are several fish species, including the killifish, striped bass and various others that make their home in these wetlands. Many insects are also found in the wetlands and they serve as a nesting ground for various species of birds. Protecting them is essential in keeping this wildlife safe from extinction. The Pacific Flyway includes the California coast and this is one of the four main migration routes for birds in North America. Protecting and restoring coastal wetlands helps to keep these birds as well as the other wildlife found in the wetlands, safe. Many organizations are beginning cleanup and restore events to help raise awareness of the issues affecting the wetlands and inform consumers on just what needs to be done in order to protect these areas in the future.