Bird and Fish Numbers Up: South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Offers Updates

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Swaths of salt ponds once spanned the horizon beyond the levees of Alviso. But as part of a major project restoring wetland habitat to Silicon Valley’s waterfront, these ponds are now open to tidal waters and have become a vibrant nursery for the Bay’s fish species, from longfin smelt to leopard sharks.

This is just one of many research findings and project updates being highlighted at the 3rd Biennial South Bay Science Symposium on Tuesday, July 16, hosted by the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project.

The South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project is celebrating its 10th anniversary. Set into motion by a who’s who of local supporters — including U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein and the Packard Foundation — the project is the largest tidal wetland restoration effort on the U.S. West Coast. Its aim: to restore more than 15,000 acres of land into a mix of managed wetlands that deliver valuable “ecosystem services” to Silicon Valley communities, such as natural flood control, wildlife habitat and recreational trails.

“In just these first ten years, we’ve already transformed the fate of 3,500 acres in the South Bay from industrial use to a mix of habitat types,” says John Bourgeois, the executive director of the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project. “With such an ambitious, long-term restoration effort, we are always learning something new that helps improve how we adaptively manage the project, and our science program is the foundation of that learning. But seeing barren salt flats transform into lush marshes is quite something. We’re truly restoring the wild heart of the South Bay.”

Scientists from local research institutions have been a key part of the South Bay project, conducting studies on all aspects of the restoration to help project managers correct course and adapt to new information.

The July 16 conference will feature scientific findings from the U.S. Geological Survey, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge, UC Davis, UC Berkeley and San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory, among other partners.

Expected highlights include:

  1. An increase in native waterbird numbers after restoration milestones, and new insights on how to construct better habitat “islands” for bird use.
  2. The transformation of Alviso-area salt ponds into an important and productive area for San Francisco Bay fish species.
  3. Key science lessons that influenced restoration designs and management actions, and the science needs to guide future decades of restoration.

USGS Western Ecological Research Center scientist Laura Valoppi serves as the research coordinator for the overall restoration project. WERC presenters at the symposium will include Valoppi, Josh Ackerman, John Takekawa, Alex Hartman, Lacy Smith and Stacy Moskal.

The one-day symposium will be held on the USGS Menlo Park Campus at 345 Middlefield Road beginning at 8:30 a.m., with a 10th anniversary reception at 4:40 p.m. Registration is now closed, but a live-stream video feed will be available online at: http://media.wr.usgs.gov/live/index_qa.html

Symposium agenda and presentations will be archived and publicly available at http://www.southbayrestoration.org. News media interested in contacting symposium organizers can email Doug Cordell or Ben Landis.

-- Ben Young Landis