February 28, 2011 Leave a comment
|Environment and Resources - Wildlife|
|Written by albert h. fulcher|
|Monday, 28 February 2011 17:46|
South San Diego Bay is in the midst of the Port of San Diego’s biggest environmental restoration projects yet.
Breaking ground in September, the Chula Vista Wildlife Reserve restoration is the product of government, business, environmentalist and grass root volunteers, restoring more than 280 acres of recovered natural habitat. The Port anticipates renovation of the entire 280 acres in the Chula Vista Wildlife Reserve and National Wildlife Refuge, as well as Pond 10 and 11 in the Salt Works near Imperial Beach, to be completed by September 2011.
Behind the South Bay Power Plant, 55 acres of renovated habitat finished by March. Already, dredging is restoring the basins by carving tidal creeks and channel, replicating the natural environment.
According to the Port, this process allows water to flow through the area more efficiently and creates new habitat for fish and wildlife. Graded at a slope, it supports a habitat for the variety of native plants and wildlife that depends on it. More than 35,000 cubic yards of soil have been excavated in the east and west basin. Work will transport the soil underwater through 10-inch pipes 7,500 feet to Pond 11 to restore the habitat there.
David Merk, Director of Environmental Services for the Port, said this new environment would become an enviable habitat to endangered birds, the Eastern Pacific green sea turtle and thousands of migratory birds. South San Diego Bay is home to many endangered birds like the California least tern, the light-footed clapper rail and the western snowy plover.
Merk said what intrigued him most about the project is that all of the agencies involved are pleased with the plan and its results.
“What you see is three years of hard work,” said Merk. “Look at the size of the project. Matching funds were needed. We had to draw in many agencies for funding and planning to pull it off.”
Funding for the project comes from $1.3 million of the Port’s Environmental Fund and contributions and grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, California Coastal Conservancy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Megan Cooper, project manager for the California Coastal Conservancy (CCC), said they have managed funding and the project has taken two paths—the port side and the western salt ponds.
The CCC contributed $1.2 million to the project. It is managing more than $3 million from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service and federal stimulus money.
“The federal stimulus money is being put to good use for the environment and the community,” she said. “We track every minute and report to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on all stimulus monies spent.”
Cooper said she was happy with all of the partners in this large project and its progress so far. Requests for Proposals are out looking for contractors to begin work in February in the western salt ponds.
“We are very excited about this project,” said Cooper. “It is not only good for the environment, but it is also great for the community as well.”
Cooper said the CCC has been working in the South Bay for 15 years. She said this project could not be accomplished without all its partners.
“I want to make sure people understand that we are not just taking care of the environment: We are creating jobs,” said Cooper. “Engineers, biologists, construction crews and all the other people that are doing work out in the fields [are] earning money.”
Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox said the Port’s wetlands restoration project will greatly contribute to the long-term health of the region’s valuable natural resources.
“When this project is completed it will complement the City and the Port’s bayfront redevelopment efforts anticipated through the Chula Vista Bayfront Master Plan,” said Cox. “The Bayfront Master Plan will ultimately lead to a well-balanced development of a world-class hotel and conference center, condominiums, retail, parks, and natural open space areas.”
Much of the volunteer work already completed has taken place at Emory Cove off the Silver Strand. Volunteer efforts headed by the San Diego Audubon Society (SDAS) and the San Diego Oceans Foundation (SDOF) began restoration of the cove, removing much of the non-native ice plant and planting native species in its place. Three volunteer workdays were held October through December, and Merk said more than 300 community volunteers have helped to remove invasive plants. The next step is replanting coastal sage and salt marsh plants.
Shannon Dougherty, conservation coordinator for SDAS, has worked on a variety of other habitat restoration and conservations projects. SDAS was selected as one of the nonprofit partners to recruit and coordinate community-involved volunteers. Dougherty said the SDAS is working in collaboration with the SDOF to coordinate these volunteer events.
“We have an established relationship with the Port as we both have a shared interest in protecting and restoring the natural communities and wildlife populations within the Bay tidelands,” said Dougherty.
Dougherty loves grassroots level projects because of the unique opportunity to engage and work with a diverse group of volunteers, some of which have little exposure to the kind of work done and the places worked.
“It’s fun to see someone experiencing a different part of their region for the first time and learning about the many local species and habitats that we have here in San Diego County,” she said. “For a project of this scale, it requires prep work and planning. We work with our partners from start to finish including any kind of pre-event prep work such as flagging planting areas, preparing an orientation session to teach volunteers how to plant and other similar kinds of activities that help the event run smoothly.”
Dougherty said this project would not happen at the current cost or scale without volunteers. By the end of the project, more than 1500 volunteer hours will be logged.
On Jan. 8, volunteers from all over the county assembled in Emory Cove to help remove and replace plant life. Dougherty headed the project. Volunteers pulled ice plant and hauled it to dumpsters, planted and watered California Sage, Lemonade Berry and Laurel Sumac trees along with Jumping Cholla, Barrel and Coastal Prickly Pear cactus. Volunteers then took trash bags and picked up debris throughout the area.
Emory Cove is a common stopping place and several species of birds surrounded workers. Black Brants, Marbled Godwits, great herons, osprey and snowy egrets continuously flew around the cove. They represented just a few of the thousands of species of shorebirds that live and migrate through the area.
SDAS president Peter Thomas said since 1948, beginning primarily as a bird watching club, they have naturally progressed into restoration and education projects.
“We are so fortunate [to have] volunteers,” said Thomas. “We could not do this without them. One large goal is to bring more of the South Bay community involvement to show people the beauty of the nature that surrounds them and provide education that will be passed on for generations.”
Mike Greene came all the way from Poway to attend the Emory Cove event. Green is a member of the SDAS and docent at the San Diego Natural History Museum and the Blue Sky Ecological Reserve in Poway. An avid bird watcher and biker, he said he tries to come out and do the “grunt work” as often as he can.
“Reestablishment of the native environment is not just for the birds and wildlife, but for the people too,” said Greene. “Getting involved always sounds good, but looking at the people actually working towards the future is why I do this.”
David Kimball, SDAS board member, said he has been actively involved in these types of projects for more than 10 years. He said his pride and joy is the restoration work done at Sunset Cliffs and the San Diego Famosa Slough.
“I have worked from Vista down to the border,” said Kimball. “Today is a beautiful day — look what you see around us. I love doing this work. We are still expecting to place 800 more plants.”
Merk said volunteers bring a lot of energy to the project and they are always looking for more.