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Orange Co. Oil Spill Highlights Critical Need for Restoration of Tidal Salt Marshes at Mission Bay

The news about the oil spill that began last Saturday, Oct. 2nd, in Orange County continues to be grim. So far it’s resulted in up to 144,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the waters off Huntington Beach, making it the worst offshore oil spill in California in at least 30 years. One of our ReWild Mission Bay restoration assistants has family that lives in the Huntington Beach area, and has seen seeing the damage firsthand.

Despite efforts to contain the spill, the oil plume, now at 13 square miles, has been heading south past Laguna Beach toward San Clemente. Oil has already been found along beaches here in San Diego County. Several rare coastal ecosystems with considerable biodiversity have been impacted, most notably the Corona del Mar tidepools and the Talbert Marsh, which Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley said has received “significant damage.”

Once again, the price of fossil fuel extraction is being paid by coastal species, ecosystems, and marine life. Slivers of native species and habitat that have survived decades of poured cement, destructive recreation, wayward foot traffic, and coastal hardening have again found their value as refuges suffocated and diminished.

This is especially tragic at a restored wetland like Talbert Marsh, which has a great deal in common with our efforts to restore native habitats and wetlands as part of the ReWild Mission Bay campaign.

Here in San Diego, the city will soon release a revised Notice of Preparation (NOP) for their wetland restoration plan for Mission Bay. We hope the city takes its numerous pronouncements about the importance of restoring native wetlands seriously.

Not only will restored salt marshes make for cleaner water in the bay at the mouth of Rose Creek, but expanded wetlands will sequester considerable carbon, pave the way for greater public access to our bayfront, and add climate resiliency in the face of rising sea levels. ReWild Mission Bay’s Wildest plan will also restore critical and rare habitat which, sadly, can be destroyed in just a few hours with exposure to crude oil, toxins, detergents, and the nightmare soup of industrial disease.

Luckily, the ReWild Coalition has remained in front of the city’s pending NOP release with a pair of op/eds in our local papers, including Dr. Karin Zirk’s piece in the Oct. 6th edition of the San Diego Union-Tribune that ties the ReWild Mission Bay effort with Friends of Rose Creek and the need to restore this area with history in mind. ReWild Mission Bay campaign director Andrew Meyer similarly placed a piece on carbon sequestration and carbon “sinks” in the Sept. 19th edition of Times of San Diego.

We encourage you to share these pieces with the mayor and your city councilmembers in letters, e-mails, or as portions of testimony as the city prepares to announce its plans for restoring – hopefully – the native wetlands of the northeast corner of Mission Bay.

Today’s Kendall-Frost Marsh Reserve, located along P.B. Drive and Crown Point Drive, is a surviving remnant of the once great salt marsh that filled Mission Bay, fueled by the unique natural combination that occurs when fresh water entering the bay from Rose Creek meets the salt water of the bay—resulting in a home for endangered species like Ridgway’s Rail, needed now more than ever.