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Progress Underway at Chula Vista Wildlife Reserve Restoration Project

Contact: Barbara Moreno (619) 686-6216 on .

Excavated dirt, mud and tractors, all spotted along the shores of south San Diego Bay are signs of environmental progress. (Courtesy: Eileen Maher)Excavated dirt, mud and tractors, all spotted along the shores of south San Diego Bay, are signs of environmental progress.

The Chula Vista Wildlife Reserve restoration – the largest environmental restoration project by the Port of San Diego – has been underway for three months. When completed, it will result in improved fish and wildlife habitat in an area covering more than 280 acres. The site is located behind the South Bay Power Plant.


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Since the groundbreaking event on Sept. 23, 2010, 20,000 cubic yards of soil have been excavated in the west basin, and nearly 15,000 cubic yards excavated in the east basin.

The basins will be restored by carving tidal creeks and channels, which will meander through the land to replicate a natural environment. This will allow water to coarse through the area more efficiently and create new habitat for fish.

The site is flat with stockpiles of the excavated dirt in the corners of basins. Tractors have piled mounds and mounds of sediment to be transported underwater through 10-inch diameter pipes 7,500 feet across the Bay to Pond 11 in the Salt Works, a National Wildlife Refuge. The pond is located near Imperial Beach.

The 55 acres of habitat at the Chula Vista Wildlife Reserve are expected to be renovated by March 2011.

"This new environment will become a desirable habitat to endangered birds such as the light-footed clapper rail, the western snowy plover, Beldings savannah sparrow, the California least tern, the eastern Pacific green sea turtle and thousands of migratory birds," said David Merk, director of Environmental Services for the Port.

The land is being graded at a slope that will make a habitat for a variety of plants and animals possible. Once the dredging of the basins is completed, it will support native vegetation that will be planted there.

"We have had over 300 volunteers to help remove the invasive plants, and soon we'll start replanting coastal sage shrub and salt marsh plants," said Merk.

The volunteer efforts have already been a great success. At Emery Cove on December 11, about 35 volunteers planted and restored 80 tubs full of native salt marsh plants.

There will be four more opportunities for volunteers to help:

  • January 8
  • January 22
  • February 5
  • February 19

Volunteers will work from 9 a.m. to noon to re-plant the habitat. Those interested in helping out should register with the Audubon Society beforehand.

"The volunteers bring a lot of energy to the project with all their help," said Merk. "We're always looking for more volunteers to help plant."

By September of 2011, 280 acres in South Bay, including the Chula Vista Wildlife Reserve and Ponds 10 and 11 in the refuge, will be renovated. This segment of the project will make the surrounding community more picturesque. Where there was once water, the landscape will be transformed with salt marsh plants. Once the vegetation flourishes, members of the community will see more birds and wildlife inhabiting the area.

The project was made possible by the Port of San Diego's Environmental Fund's $1.3 million contribution and grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the California Coastal Conservancy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Other partnering agencies involved in this project include the San Diego Audubon Society, the San Diego Oceans Foundation and the Coronado Rotary Club.

The project to restore and enhance the Chula Vista Wildlife Reserve was originally approved in December 2007 as one of the Port's environmental projects. One-million dollars of the environmental fund was approved for the project, with the condition that matching funds would be sought.

The Port of San Diego has several programs to help improve the health of San Diego Bay and the tidelands. In 2006, an environmental fund was created to pay for projects that go beyond state and federal regulations. Since then, $5.9 million has been allocated for about 50 projects, most of which have been completed.


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