Elkhorn Slough is a jewel on California's coastline and one of the 25 most significant biodiversity hotspots in the world. Its acreage... more » is second in size only to the wetlands in the San Francisco Bay Area. While it offers a variety of rich habitats and vegetation for hundreds of species of birds, fish and other wildlife, it's under constant threat from human activity, pollution and erosion.
This region is home to one of the largest populations of southern sea otters on the California coast. Still, their numbers today are but a fraction of what they were a few hundred years ago when they numbered well over 100,000 along the entire West Coast, from Alaska to Mexico. Hunters nearly wiped them out in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Today, federal law protects the otters from hunters, but they face other dangers nearly as deadly. More sea otters seem to be getting sick and researchers want to find out why.
Elkhorn Slough is an estuary, a region where freshwater, such as from rivers, meets the saltwater of the ocean. Such coastal regions consist of deep-water tidal habitats next to tidal wetlands. The wetlands are partially enclosed by land, but have open access to the sea. Seawater enters the wetlands with the tides and occasionally gets diluted by freshwater.
Elkhorn Slough is an extraordinary place—one of the 25 most significant biodiversity hotspots in the world. The National Audubon Society lists the area in its Globally Important Bird Areas, and it was named a Western Shorebird Reserve by the Manomet Bird Observatory. There are two dozen threatened and endangered plant and animal species here, including the California brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis), the western snowy plover (Charadrius alexandrinus), and the southern sea otter (Enhydra lutris nereis). Elkhorn Slough provides critical habitat for over 550 marine invertebrates and over 100 fish species, too.