Moss Landing, CA
On our fifth day in Moss Landing, Sunday October 11, we took a tour of the lower Elkhorn Slough Ecological Reserve on Whisper Charters with Captain Brian Ackerman. Continuing our exploration of the environment and wildlife of this area the charter tour allowed us to go up about 3.5 miles into the Elkhorn Slough.
The charter boat is a Duffy 22 electric drive; very comfortable, stable, quiet, and maneuverable. It was like taking a water eco-tour around your host’s dining room table. The boat takes only six guests, a nice small group. We were with two couples who were here for the men’s 60th high school anniversary. Both are avid nature photographers. Captain Brian handled the little boat very well, optimizing the tour for the photographers: Gliding up to seals basking in the morning sun, silently drifting on the morning tide by wading birds poking for breakfast, nosing right into a mud bank so that we could sample Pickleweed, which grows everywhere in the salt marshes (crunchy and briny, it would be a fitting garnish with garlic or a secret ingredient in tuna salad).
We couldn’t have had a better guide for the tour, nor a better and more interesting tour. Brian pointed out many different bird species, talked about the history of the slough from prehistoric times through the 1800’s to the present. The slough is now the remnant of what was once the main drainage basin for central California up to what is now San Francisco Bay before the Golden Gate was cut. A much larger river emptied into the ocean at what is today Moss Landing. Over time, the coastal range mountains pushed up as tectonic shifts occurred and changed the watershed flow northward, toward San Francisco Bay and out the Golden Gate. The Elkhorn Slough is all that’s left of that big river. The huge and deep Monterey Bay underwater canyon – the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute maintains a sensor in the canyon that’s more than a mile under water – that begins immediately offshore from Moss Landing was once part of an enormous canyon larger & deeper than the Grand Canyon of today. It was also pushed west and downward by tectonic plate movement, breaking off and sinking to become the deep water feature that is today. This canyon is what supports the wide variety of sea life found in the bay, as cold upwelling brings nutrients to the surface.
Up to about 30 years ago, the Elkhorn Slough was a heavily polluted and dying waterway. The wildlife here continues to impress and entertain us. Captain Brian added a lot of insight about the ecological development of the slough. Apparently the slough was quite industrialized at the turn of the century, treated as a waterway for commerce and waste disposal. Agricultural run-off, a lot from dairy farms, along with industrial and other human waste polluted the water allowing algae growth which displaced the indigenous flora and fauna. Environmental cleanup efforts, and most importantly restoration of the Southern Sea Otter, has done much to restore health to the Elkhorn Slough. The otters play an important role in maintaining biodiversity by controlling overpopulation of some species in a chain of dependency – they are the key trophic species (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trophic_cascade ). The Southern Sea Otter is only found on this stretch of the coastline, and about 5% of the population live in Moss Landing and Elkhorn Slough. Today, Monterey Bay, including Elkhorn Slough, is one of the nation’s premier wildlife sanctuaries, especially for birds and marine life.
On a different topic, later this afternoon the yacht club is hosting a barbeque and we’re planning to go up and join in. We’ve had some interesting and enjoyable conversations with various members so far, and anticipate more of the same. This will be our last “event” at the Elkhorn YC; we’ll definitely head out for Monterey tomorrow, time TBD depending on weather forecast. It’s only 12 miles away, so will be a short trip.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute’s main facility is right here in Moss Landing, just across the channel at the south harbor. Although the Center is a working institute & not open for tourists, we’re looking forward to visiting their big aquarium in Monterey later this week.