CI Photojournal: California’s Elkhorn Slough

California has long had the reputation for being one of the U.S.’s most beautiful and environmentally-conscious states. This week, as leaders in business, government and the environmental movement gather in southern California to discuss sustainability at Fortune Brainstorm GREEN, we’re bringing you a series of blogs spotlighting the natural beauty of the California coast — seen through the eyes of photographer and videographer Keith Ellenbogen. Check out his other blogs from California.

Marbled godwits look for food on California's Elkhorn Slough.

Marbled godwits (Limosa fedoa) look for food as the waves move over the sand. (© Keith Ellenbogen/iLCP)

The Elkhorn Slough is a special place — one of those places that makes you just say “Wow!” This seven mile [11-kilometer] long wetland, a habitat that transitions between the land and the sea, is located just north of Monterey Bay. It is one of California’s largest wetlands and is part of a national estuarine reserve.

An aerial view of The Elkhorn Slough at low tide.

An aerial view of California's Elkhorn Slough at low tide. (© Keith Ellenbogen/iLCP)

Wetland habitats are important ecosystems, as they provide a buffer zone that protects the land from erosion and floods. In areas such as the Elkhorn Slough where there are large farms, this wetland plays a critical role in naturally removing some of the fertilizers, pollutants and impurities from the water. Wetlands also sequester carbon, meaning they remove the greenhouse gas from the Earth’s atmosphere and store it in the sediment below. Protecting wetlands such as the Elkhorn Slough can help reduce our carbon footprint while simultaneously protecting wildlife.

sea otter

A photogenic sea otter in the Elkhorn Slough — part of one of the healthiest populations in California. (© Keith Ellenbogen/iLCP)

This wetland habitat is home to many plants and animals that have adapted to varying wet/dry conditions due to daily fluctuations between high and low tide. The Elkhorn Slough is home to over 340 kinds of birds, 550 marine invertebrates, 102 fish and a number of marine mammals, including one of the largest and healthiest populations of sea otters (Enhydra lutris) in California. The sea otters were my primary reason for visiting this area (more to follow in my next blog).

pickleweed in California's Elkhorn Slough

The brilliantly red plant known as pickleweed thrives in water that has a high salinity. (© Keith Ellenbogen/iLCP)

While at the Elkhorn Slough, I was fortunate to work with Ron Eby, an extremely knowledgeable naturalist and volunteer who soon became a friend. As we hiked and boated through the slough, I came to admire Ron for his passion and inspiration — he and many dedicated volunteers like him play an important role in educating the public about this beautiful, unique place.

Harbor seals in California's Elkhorn Slough

Harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) in the shallow waters of California's Elkhorn Slough. (© Keith Ellenbogen/iLCP)

Keith Ellenbogen is a member of the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP). His California assignment was part of a larger effort to document the state of some of the world’s most important and vulnerable marine ecosystems — and the people who depend on them — in support of the Ocean Health Index, a new tool for benchmarking global ocean health that will launch later this year. Check out his previous blog series from the Philippines’ Turtle Islands, and see more of Keith’s photos on the New England Aquarium Explorers Blog.

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