CDFW Approves Restoration Project for Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has certified the final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for a project to restore the largest coastal wetlands complex in Los Angeles County and increase public access to outdoor recreation and natural spaces in one of the most densely populated areas in the world.

The Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve (BWER) project will enhance and establish native coastal wetlands and upland habitat on 566 of the reserve’s 577 acres south of Marina del Rey and east of Playa del Rey. It will restore ecological function to currently degraded wetlands, preserving sensitive habitat for future generations and build climate resilience on a coast vulnerable to sea level rise.

The project also advances the Newsom Administration’s Executive Order of October 7, 2020, focused on harnessing California’s vast network of natural and working lands to fight climate change and protect biodiversity. See a summary of the approved project. A more detailed project description is found in the final EIR.

CDFW is advancing the most restorative alternative in the final EIR – with a significant commitment to phasing the restoration work. This alternative offers the most restoration, which is important because of the huge degradation at BWER from a history of human impacts. The most restorative alternative also provides more climate resiliency buffer, because without this restoration sea level rise will overcome the remaining portions of BWER that have functioning wetlands and flood local roads more frequently, more severely and much sooner.

CDFW, in partnership with the State Coastal Conservancy and The Bay Foundation, has spent years working with the public and envisioning a plan for the revitalization of BWER, which once encompassed an approximately 2,000-acre expanse of marshes, mud flats, salt pans and sand dunes that stretched from Playa del Rey to Venice and inland to the Baldwin Hills. Today, the reserve’s 577 acres are all that remains of the former wetlands. The state acquired the reserve in 2003 with the use of $149 million in Proposition 50 funds.

The ecosystem at BWER is considered one of the last remaining opportunities for major coastal habitat restoration in Los Angeles County. Ecological components of the project include enhancing and restoring 200 acres of coastal wetlands, relocating existing levees to reconnect Ballona Creek to its historic floodplain, improving tidal circulation into the reserve, and restoring estuarine aquatic and upland habitats.

In addition to combating climate change and protecting biodiversity, the project will help achieve equity and access to natural spaces for all Angelenos, consistent with another Newsom Administration priority. It is estimated that well over 90 percent of wetlands in the region have been lost to development and human alteration. Once restored, BWER will be one of the largest natural open spaces available to the public in the City of Los Angeles, second only to Griffith Park. The project will now proceed toward final design. CDFW will work with the Los Angeles County Flood Control District in securing a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and completing a federal environmental review document, a process expected to take approximately two and a half years. In addition, approvals from the Coastal Commission, Regional Water Quality Control Board and possibly other agencies are required, and the timing of those approvals depends on the permitting agency’s process. As CDFW continues through the next steps of these processes, CDFW’s vision for BWER will remain the same – a restored, healthy wetlands that provides greater sea level rise buffer and climate resiliency, with equity and access to natural open spaces for all Angelenos.

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Media Contacts:
Jordan Traverso, CDFW Communications, (916) 654-9937

Eight California sea otters float in a kelp bed in Elkhorn Slough

Elkhorn Slough OtterCam Goes High Definition

The Elkhorn Slough OtterCam has been upgraded from standard to high-definition, and there is now a second HD video camera focused on sea otters, thanks to the generous support of the Acacia Foundation and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). Now anyone can watch California’s adorable sea otters in HD by going to www.elkhornslough.org/ottercam.

Located in areas of the Elkhorn Slough Reserve’s salt marshes where sea otters often congregate, the two new cameras offer great image clarity and fine detail for viewing this iconic Monterey Bay marine mammal and a teeming cast of other Elkhorn Slough wildlife. Elkhorn Slough Ecological Reserve is managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).

The Elkhorn Slough OtterCam HD video streams will be featured as part of the PBS/BBC Big Blue Live television and online event, Aug. 31 through Sept. 2 (at www.pbs.org/big-blue-live/live-cams/elkhorn-slough-otter-cam). Anchored from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the three-day, live televised event will highlight the amazing marine life that converges off California’s central coast. The Big Blue Live website links to live cameras, including the Elkhorn Slough OtterCam.

Elkhorn Slough is home to the largest concentration of endangered southern sea otters (enhydra lutris nereis) on the California coast, and the first webcam dedicated to streaming live video of wild southern sea otters in their natural habitat. The Elkhorn Slough OtterCam has been streaming live video online from the tidal salt marshes of the Elkhorn Slough Reserve since 2012. The upgrade to high-definition enhances the OtterCam for both researchers and visitors.

For almost two years, researchers have used the Elkhorn Slough OtterCam to observe sea otter behavior such as foraging, grooming and raising pups. Stationed on the edge of the slough, the camera looks across pickleweed marsh and tidal channels of the slough. These channels are frequented largely by female otters and appear to be used as a nursery, as sea otters with pups are regularly seen in the meandering channels. During the past three years, the camera has provided video and still photographs documenting the growth of otter pups, interactions with harbor seals and other wildlife, and the movement of otters throughout the slough.

“The OtterCam has opened a unique window on the lives of sea otters. There are times we are seeing 25 or more otters in the protected channels of the slough’s marsh,” Elkhorn Slough Foundation (ESF) Executive Director Mark Silberstein said. “This suggests there may be more otters residing in the slough than previously thought. We’ve witnessed some unique behaviors, such as hauling out of the water, resting and grooming in the pickleweed marshes.”

Research is underway to better understand how sea otters are using the estuary, with the hope of helping southern sea otters recover in other parts of their historic range. In turn, recent evidence suggests that sea otters may yield important ecological benefits to the estuaries they inhabit. A study published by reserve researcher Brent Hughes in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed that sea otters enhance the health of subtidal seagrass beds, as they do in kelp forests.

“We are pleased to present these remarkable images from the Elkhorn Slough Reserve, and shine a light on sea otter use of the estuary,” Reserve Manager Dave Feliz said. “The behavior of these animals in a salt marsh is little understood, yet the story is unfolding before the eyes of the world on ElkhornSlough.org. CDFW is happy to be a part of this new chapter in sea otter life history.”

Elkhorn Slough, in the central Monterey Bay area, encompasses a wide variety of habitats – oak woodlands, maritime chaparral, coastal prairie and the largest tract of tidal salt marsh in California south of San Francisco Bay – that support an incredible abundance and diversity of life. Elkhorn Slough hosts 550 species of marine invertebrates and 100 species of fish, as well as resident sea lions, harbor seals and the highest concentration of southern sea otters on the West Coast. On the Pacific flyway, Elkhorn Slough bird numbers can soar during migration seasons, nearly doubling the resident bird counts. The slough is designated a Globally Important Bird area, with more than 340 species identified in and around the slough.

ESF is a community-supported non-profit land trust whose mission is to conserve and restore the Elkhorn Slough and its watershed. ESF protects 4,000 acres of rare habitat including oak woodlands, maritime chaparral and wetlands. Since 1982, ESF has been the non-profit partner of the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve (ESNERR).

ESNERR is managed by CDFW with administrative assistance from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. ESNERR is one of 28 reserves established nationwide to support long-term research, water-quality monitoring, environmental education and coastal stewardship.

For information about ESF and ESNERR, and to support the conservation of Elkhorn Slough, please visit ElkhornSlough.org and CDFW Elkhorn Slough.

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Media Contacts:
Dave Feliz, CDFW Elkhorn Slough Reserve, (831) 728-2822
Scott Nichols, Elkhorn Slough Foundation, (831) 728-5939
Dana Michaels, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-2420