Home to scores of birds, sea otters and countless other creatures, Elkhorn Slough, the second-largest estuary in the state and home to the federal Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, just got international recognition.
On Oct. 5 at the Reserve's Hester Marsh, Congressman Jimmy Panetta, D-Carmel Valley, State Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, and a host of federal and state officials, among others, celebrated Elkhorn Slough being named a "Wetland of International Importance" by the Secretariat of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.
The wetland is now one of 38 in the U.S. with the designation, and one of 2,326 in the world.
"I am proud that Elkhorn Slough is being recognized internationally for what we on the Central Coast of California have long known, that this wetland is an environmental crown jewel," Panetta said at the celebration. "This designation is a reminder of the importance of protecting the diverse wildlife and conserving these waters for future generations to enjoy."
The Ramsar Convention, also known as the Convention on Wetlands, convened in Ramsar, Iran in 1971. Nearly 90 percent of the countries in the United Nations are parties to the convention, which has the mission of "conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution toward achieving sustainable development throughout the world."
While the recognition itself doesn't come with added protections or funding for Elkhorn Slough, Scott Nichols, communications manager for the nonprofit Elkhorn Slough Foundation, says it can help with getting grants or other funding, and he compares the designation to a UNESCO World Heritage site for wetlands.
According to a statement about the recognition, more than 90 percent of the state's wetlands have been lost over the past century, and Elkhorn Slough's remaining marshes are projected to drown within 50 years due to sea level rise without restoration.
The 61-acre Hester Marsh, where the celebration was held, is the site of one such restoration project, which is nearly complete and cost $6.5 million.
"This project is an example of the intensive investment required to restore estuarine functions once lost, while incorporating a design that enhances resilience for future challenges,” Reserve Manager Dave Feliz said in the statement.