Biodiversity under the bridge: Wetland conservation in suburbia

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.   ~Margaret Mead

I’ve been working at Watsonville High School twice a week for the last two years and while I knew the wetlands in the area were special, I didn’t know how amazing they really were until I took a guided walk there last week.

Pacific Tree Frog (Pseudacris regilla) at Watsonville Slough in Watsonville, CA (T. Cornelisse)

Wetlands are areas where land and water come together, providing unique habitat for a plethora of wildlife. Wetlands are among the most endangered of all ecosystems and yet are one of the most important, as they are breeding grounds for fish, birds, insects, and amphibians. Wetlands also help us humans out with water purification, flood control, and stabilizing shorelines. For some reason, humans also found them to be great places to drain and build houses on. 50% of wetlands were drained by the 1990’s.

Luckily, we got smart and started conserving the remaining wetlands. Among these smart people were the residents of Watsonville, California. In 1990, the upper part of the wetlands in Watsonville were slated to be the site of 800 homes. The people of Watsonville weren’t having it. They not only stopped the development but formed Watsonville Wetlands Watch, an organization that has grown to be a powerful force in wetland conservation, restoration, and education.

Struve Slough in Watsonville, CA (T. Cornelisse)

Today the wetlands in Watsonville are surrounded by homes, Target, strip-malls, warehouses, and CA Highway 1 (see map).

But they are also one of the largest remaining freshwater wetlands on the California coast, providing vital habitat for migrating and half of CA’s threatened birds (amazing photo checklist found here), resources for numerous other endangered species, including native plants like the Santa Cruz Tarplant. On top of it all, hundreds of high school students and local families participate in education and restoration projects at the wetlands.

There are also 6 miles of trails around the wetlands and free guided walks (binoculars, bird guides, and snacks included!) every Sunday provided by the City of Watsonville’s Nature Center in Ramsay Park. I went in the summer but I am told the wetlands are full of unique birds in the fall and winter. Luckily for me, the insects are there all year.

Watsonville families checking out a Black-crowned Night Heron at Watsonville Slough on a guided tour. (T. Cornelisse)

About tcornelisse
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