Audubon California is helping shape the future of this remarkable place for birds.
White Pelicans at the Salton Sea. Photo: Robin L
The Salton Sea is one of the most important places for birds in North America and is recently in danger of losing its ecological value. As the Sea changes, we will face losing a vital part of the Pacific Flyway and face a toxic dust bowl that will threaten public health for more than a million Californians.
As part of the Colorado River Delta, the sea filled and dried for thousands of years prior to its current, 35-mile-long incarnation, which came into existence as the result of a massive flood of the Colorado River in 1905. The 330-square-mile Sea has partially replaced wetland habitat lost to agricultural and urban conversion in the Colorado River Delta, California’s coast, and the San Joaquin Valley.
The Sea is a globally significant Important Bird Area. For the past century, the Sea has served as a major nesting, wintering, and stopover site for millions of birds of approximately 400 species. Until recent years, tiny Eared Grebes wintered by the thousands in rafts far out on its surface. American White Pelicans roosted on mudflats and fished for tilapia in its shallows. Migratory shorebirds stopped to migrate and feed along the Sea’s edge. Today’s avifauna is shifting – the Sea is loosing the fish-eating birds such as pelicans and cormorants because fish populations are disappearing. Eared grebes, who have fed on pile worms, are also declining rapidly, from millions to several thousand. Shorebirds, however, that feast on invertebrates along the shore edges, as well as shallow feeding ducks such as Northern Shoveler and Ruddy Duck, are still wintering at, or passing along the Sea, in massive numbers.
Recently, its water level dropped to the point that colonial seabirds began abandoning nesting sites en masse in 2013, and shallow, marshy habitat areas at the sea’s edge have begun to rapidly vanish, particularly at the south end. And in 2017, inputs of Colorado River water that have been maintaining a minimum sea level are scheduled to end, as more water is transferred from local agricultural uses to urban uses on the coast. As less water flows into the sea, it will shrink considerably, becoming more saline and eventually inhospitable to birds, fish, and insects.
Audubon California has the opportunity to help address some of the immense challenges of the Salton Sea.
Research about how much habitat -- and what kind -- birds are using at the Salton Sea should guide restoration.
Audubon California recently joined local water leaders and NGOs to tour the Salton Sea and view the crisis there up close. This great clip from NBC Palm Springs covers the day.
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