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San Francisco Estuary Project Paper.

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Danielle Anderson

San Francisco Estuary Project Paper

BIO 315

March 25, 2019

        The San Francisco Estuary is the largest estuary in western North America, it includes the San Francisco Bay and the Delta of both the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. 10,000 years ago, the coastal ridges were flooded by the rising sea levels and trapped these areas 60 miles inland in turn creating the massive estuary. The incredible size of this area is so big that many researchers break it up into the upper and lower Estuaries of San Francisco. This estuary is important in an ecological manner because it is a winter-feeding habitat for many different migratory birds. It is also known to be a protective area for many species of fish, shellfish and multiple types of plants and animals. Human activities have dramatically impacted the overall health of this estuary and that is why many people are looking into ways to help save and rehabilitate this special ecosystem.

Damages to the Estuary

        The San Francisco Estuary faces many damaging issues like climate change, human activities, habitat loss, fragmentation and changes in ocean salinity and acidification. According to San Francisco Baykeeper (2013), the climate change is proposing threats to 28 major estuaries across the nation. The San Francisco Bay estuary is one of the six most vulnerable estuaries when it comes to climate change. They explained that the San Francisco Bay estuary is one of the world’s most urban estuaries. This makes it even more vulnerable to issues like “sea level rise, habitat loss and salt water intrusion” (San Francisco Baykeeper, 2013). Human activities are one of the biggest threats to the San Francisco Bay Estuary. Some of the main ways are, agricultural pollution and runoff resulting in damaging levels of pesticides in the water. Also, urban stormwater runoff from all the developing houses surrounding the wetlands. Even the sewage that humans create flows right into the bay and can cause major infrastructure damage. The urban developments around the estuary make it nearly impossible for the wetlands to expand or migrate inland which could result in major habitat loss for many plants and animals in the surrounding marshlands. In addition, according to EPA (2019), the water quality from this estuary have damaging levels of pesticides, mercury, other metals and toxic substances. Most of these changing levels come from “industrial, agricultural, urban, transportation, and natural sources” like abandoned mines. Poor water quality not only affects drinking water for those living around the estuary but also agriculture, terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and even the local and state economy.

Focusing on Biodiversity

        The San Francisco Bay is one of the entire nation’s six most important biodiversity hotspots. However, the ever-growing human population is posing great threats to this biodiversity. As the population grows, the expansive homes and golf courses eradicate the remaining wetlands and natural habitats for many plant and animal species. Over 400,000 acres of wildlife habitats are in danger of “sprawl development” because of the massive growth. This puts dramatic numbers of species at risk of endangerment in the estuary. The San Francisco Bay alone is home to over 90 different plant and animal species listed on the Endangered Species Act. In addition, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta drains 40 percent of California into the San Francisco Estuary. It provides habitat for many species of fish and other wildlife including but not limited to half of the state’s migrating waterfowl and two-thirds of the state’s salmon passing through its waters (Center for Biological Diversity). However, at least a dozen of the 29 original fish species in the Delta have been eliminated completely with the remaining facing extinction from the water pollution and even the air pollution. With all this damage being done, it is no surprise that researchers are funding projects to help protect these threatened species and the habitats they live in. The San Francisco Estuary Partnership is always looking for new ways to “improve the Estuary’s habitats and living resources by implementing projects that: protect, restore, and enhance ecological conditions and processes that support self-sustaining natural communities” (San Francisco Estuary Partnership, 2019). There are many ongoing projects to help restore the watersheds and help with the habitat loss. As a result of these projects, many plants and animals will be able to return to their natural habitats and flourish in their own communities, promoting adaptable biodiversity. One of these projects is called the Healthy Watershed, Resilient Baylands project. Their main objective is to promote healthy ecosystems that can continue to adapt to the changing climate. In order to succeed they need to “redesign [the] landscapes as robust, resilient systems that take advantage of natural processes to derive desired benefits” (San Francisco Estuary Partnership, 2019). They also explained that urban developments need to provide more habitat and connectivity for wildlife to flourish the way they used to. In addition, tidal marshes need to have a “terrestrial transition zone and freshwater inputs to promote maximum ecological value” for the growing plants and animals around (San Francisco Estuary Partnership, 2019). Another way the San Francisco Bay Estuary is promoting biodiversity is by their Supplemental Environmental Projects, or SEPs. These projects focus on restoration of the pollution in the water. Plants and animals are dying due to the polluted waters so helping lower the amounts of pollutants in the water will in turn promote more healthy habitats for these dwindling species. With less pollutants, more plants and animals will continue to thrive and raise the estuaries overall biodiversity (San Francisco Estuary Partnership, 2019).

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