San Diego Must Protect and Restore Vital Mission Bay Wetlands

By Anahí Méndez

Earth has experienced numerous changes throughout its planetary history, and variations in our climate are not unusual. But according to NASA and other scientific organizations, the transformation our climate is currently undergoing, borne out by the severity of wildfires which continue to ravage our state, is occurring at an unprecedented rate. It is clear that human industrial activity over the last 200 years has played a significant role in our current situation.

As a resident of San Diego and a member of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), it’s important for me to advocate for conservation and the protection of our local ecosystems and native wildlife. In particular, the SACNAS City College chapter has been collaborating with the San Diego Audubon Society on a variety of events and programs. One of our most rewarding collaborations thus far has been on the ReWild Mission Bay campaign.

Wetlands play a vital role in our environment by providing coastal protection and resiliency, nurseries for fish, and habitat for migratory birds. In fact, wetlands are one of the best natural habitats for sequestering carbon on our planet. According to the book Drawdown by Paul Hawken, “The soil of mangrove forests alone may hold the equivalent of more than two years of global emissions — 22 billion tons of carbon, much of which would escape if these ecosystems were lost.”

In addition, a study published in the February 2017 edition of the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment highlights the importance mangroves and wetlands play in mitigating the effects of climate change, concluding that, “These ecosystems have high rates of carbon sequestration, act as long-term carbon sinks, and are contained within clear national jurisdictions; in addition, management strategies exist to integrate them into greenhouse gas accounting.”

This makes the conservation and protection of wetland ecosystems a critical component in our fight against global warming, especially since the highest daily average for carbon dioxide emissions ever recorded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was on Feb. 10, barely one month before official government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic began to go into effect.

The City of San Diego, at this moment, has a unique opportunity to invest in the conservation of wetlands native to Mission Bay, and enhance ecosystems that will demonstrably reduce the effects of climate change in our city, thus ensuring a better future for our families and neighbors. Wetlands restoration in northeast Mission Bay and a reconnection of Kendall-Frost Marsh to its historic source of fresh water from Rose Creek will serve as carbon-sequestering green infrastructure, and will serve the city well in reaching its Climate Action Plan goals.

Decision makers, unfortunately, have opted to fund other projects — like improvements to Mission Bay Park Golf Course. The City Council in June approved the mayor’s 2021 budget, which included an additional $3 million in capital Improvements for the golf course. While recreational facilities are important, the impact of a golf course in ensuring a better future for humans and wildlife is entirely minimal compared to that provided by meaningful wetlands protection and restoration.

We are at a moment where our actions will define and determine the future for following generations. The ReWild Mission Bay “Wildest” proposal supports education and recreation for residents of all ages and backgrounds, will mitigate the effects of our climate emergency, and enlarges the habitat for native species that will otherwise vanish beneath the waterline as sea levels rise.

I ask our city leaders to consider who will benefit from the renovations at Mission Bay Golf Course, and what are the direct benefits of investing in this project. And at such an uncertain moment for municipal revenue, is this the best option for investing city funds when there are other, far more pressing matters to address like climate change, public health, and social justice?

I believe in taking action to mitigate the effects of global climate change and to preserve native wildlife. The science is clear. We’re beyond the moment to “choose” what type of planet we want to leave behind. Inaction to save our environment is a political choice. So I ask you — what are you choosing today?

As Jane Goodall said, “The greatest danger to our future is apathy.”

Photo by Greg Hoxsie