See just how much is left of San Francisco Bay’s shrinking wetlands

It was a hard statistic to get my head around: San Francisco Bay, one of the nation’s most scenic bodies of water, has lost almost 90 percent of its wetlands over the last century. I learned this while reporting for the NewsHour on the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project — the largest wetlands restoration project currently underway on the West Coast.

As someone who has lived and covered the Bay Area for years, I’ve seen all the businesses and homes along the edge of the bay, and I’ve flown into San Francisco and Oakland airports where you feel like you will be actually be landing in the bay, until a strip of land suddenly appears right before the wheels touch down. So I felt like I had a good grasp of the Bay Area landscape, but I was surprised to learn just how much of the bay’s natural habitat has disappeared due to human development.

The loss of the tidal wetlands has had a devastating impact on some species of fish and wildlife, including the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse which we highlight in our piece. And with climate change and sea level rise looming in the future, scientists are concerned how the already-threatened wildlife in the Bay Area will fare.

I recently spent several days with project leaders from the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project — an ambitious 50 year project to turn former barren industrial salt ponds back into thriving wetlands habitat. The hope is that the restored tidal marshes will mitigate some of the impacts of sea level rise. Executive Project Manager John Bourgeois took us to one area near Palo Alto that shows just what’s left of most of the Bay’s wetlands — in the video above — and the challenges wildlife face now, and in the future with sea level rise.

See the full report on tonight’s PBS NewsHour.

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