Coastal wetlands create an important connection between land and sea. The tranquil wetland waters are fed by the rhythmic rise and fall of the tides, which enriches the system with clean ocean water. Riding the ocean tides are sea creatures that live in the wetland habitats during the early parts of their lives where they eat and grow until they are large enough to venture out into the open sea. California Halibut, Smoothhound Sharks, Barred Sandbass, and Striped Mullet are just a few of the fish species that use wetlands during their early lives. Coastal wetlands are also a place where seabirds stop to rest and eat during their long migrations. Other birds use tidal wetlands as a place to build their nests or catch food for their young. Like the birds and fish, people are also drawn to wetlands to observe and enjoy the rich animal diversity and natural beauty of coastal wetland habitats.
At one time, a richly productive coastal wetland system stretched beneath the western bluffs of what is now the city of Costa Mesa. This wetland extended miles inland and covered almost 3,000 acres. Today, only about 180 acres of the wetland remains. The urban development of cities in this area, such as Huntington Beach, has dramatically reduced both natural habitat and wildlife populations. In 1985, a group of Huntington Beach residents formed the Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy (HBWC) and started a 25-year campaign to acquire, protect, and restore a 118-acre remnant of the historic wetlands. Some of these residents are still members of HBWC.
The Huntington Beach Wetlands is made up of three sub-marshes (Talbert, Brookhurst, and Magnolia) that were cut off from tidal flow for more than 100 years. Together, they were at one time the wetlands that surrounded the end of the Santa Ana River. In 1989, the Talbert Marsh, which is closest to the ocean, was restored to full tidal flow. The initial success of the Talbert project paved the way to restoring the rest of the wetland, but it was a process that took decades to reach its conclusion.
In 2005, MSRP completed a restoration plan to restore habitats and resources injured by DDT and PCBs, harmful chemicals that were dumped into the ocean years ago. The restoration plan determined that restoring wetland habitats would compensate for the harm caused by DDTs and PCBs to fish habitat. After careful consideration of several different wetland restoration projects, the Huntington Beach Wetlands was selected for restoration. Nearly 20 years had passed since the Talbert Marsh was restored and although the tide continued to flow in and out, much of the tidal channel had filled with sand.
One goal of this project was for contractors to remove sand from the Talbert Marsh channel to reestablish a strong tidal connection to the ocean. MSRP also provided partial funding along with other partners, to connect the Brookhurst Marsh to ocean waters and full tidal flow. Work began in Talbert and Brookhurst Marshes in 2008, and in the spring of 2009, the levees that had separated the Brookhurst wetland from the ocean were opened and the tide filled the channels of the wetland for the first time in over a century. Only weeks later, young halibut and other fish were observed in the newly restored wetland.
With the tremendous success of the MSRP funded restoration of the Talbert and Brookhurst marshes, the Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy was granted funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration to complete the final phase of the restoration project - restoring the Magnolia Wetland section. Contractors began work in the fall of 2009 and in the spring of 2010, all three wetlands were restored. This was a cause for celebration by members of HBWC who were finally able to see the result of their hard work after 25 years!
-David Witting, NOAA
Watch a film about this restoration project!