CI Photojournal: Wetlands and Buffer Zones

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 previous posts from California.

Strawberry farm near California's Elkhorn Slough

Strawberry farm adjacent to California’s Elkhorn Slough. (© Keith Ellenbogen/iLCP)

In California’s Elkhorn Slough, scientists are currently exploring and researching innovative ways in which they can reduce or prevent water pollutant runoff from entering the wetland.

power plant at California's Elkhorn Slough

A mystical afternoon in the Elkhorn Slough, with the towers of the Moss Landing Power Plant in the background revealing the balance between industry and nature. (© Keith Ellenbogen/iLCP)

For example, the Elkhorn Slough Foundation is working with farmers to create “buffer zones” — small barriers that use natural vegetation to prevent water and fertilizer from farms from seeping into the wetlands, and eventually the ocean.

Mark Silberstein, executive director of Elkhorn Slough Foundation

Keith talks with Mark Silberstein, the executive director of the Elkhorn Slough Foundation. (© Keith Ellenbogen/iLCP)

To help gain a better understanding of this project, I spent the afternoon with Mark Silberstein, executive director of the Elkhorn Slough Foundation and an all-around great guy. He took me to a number of farms and buffer zones to see and photograph the work they are doing. However, I soon felt confined as I struggled to capture images that showcased the interrelationships and use of land from the ground. What I wanted was a bird’s eye view.

Photographer Keith Ellenbogen prepares to board a helicopter to take photos of California's Elkhorn Slough from above.

Keith Ellenbogen prepares to take to the air to capture images of the Elkhorn Slough. (© Keith Ellenbogen/iLCP)

As a result, I decided to charter a small helicopter and fly over the Elkhorn Slough and these buffer zones. The doors of the helicopter had been removed, so I could easily lean out and take pictures. I worked with the pilot to find just the right altitude and position so that I could take pictures that visually communicate the close connections between land and sea.

Farmland with buffer zone to prevent runoff. To the left is a dairy catchment pond. (© Keith Ellenbogen/iLCP)

These natural barriers help clean the water, demonstrating that natural ecosystems provide valuable services for people even within urban environments.

sunset in Elkhorn Slough

A beautiful sunset in the 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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