MOSS LANDING, Calif. - Most locals describe the Elkhorn Slough in Moss Landing as a hidden gem. Spend a day kayaking through it and you’ll come across seals, otters, seabirds, and a plethora of marine life. But a recent study by scientists with the Elkhorn Slough Foundation discovered the estuary is essentially shrinking.
Dr. Kerstin Wasson, who led the study, found that algal blooms in the slough have been threatening the size and health of the wetlands.
"Algal mats land on the edge, kill the marsh, the roots aren't holding it together so you get bank erosion," said Wasson.
The study goes back to the 1930s, where since then the amount of algae in the slough has dramatically increased. The rapid increase can be traced back to farmland across the Central Coast. Wasson and her colleagues said the more agriculture there’s been, the more algae there’s been. It’s due to the runoff of excess fertilizer eventually ending up in the marshes.
"The effect of these fertilizers that aren't just fertilizing crops like lettuce, they're fertilizing sea lettuce,” said Wasson.
So conserving the slough has become a top priority. It’s a very important piece of the environmental puzzle, both on small and large scales. Locally, it is home to a vast range of marine life. Globally, it sucks carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, out of the atmosphere.
The Elkhorn Slough Foundation is taking clean, fresh sand and sediment from the Pajaro River bed to help rebuild the marsh. Additionally, the foundation has purchased surrounding farmland to restore it back to natural habitats.
"But the farmers themselves, they want to do better,” said Wasson. “They want this to be a beautiful wetland for their children to enjoy and they're working hard to try and improve practices."
The algal bloom tends to peak in June and July each year and is fairly noticeable along the banks of the marshes.