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On a recent kayaking trip, my partner and I decided to explore some of the more remote parts of Bair Island, just east of Redwood City, CA.
Around 10 am, starting at the public boat ramp, we navigated out Redwood Creek toward the San Francisco Bay, and then rode an incoming tide northwest into the Corkscrew Slough, a deep channel that cuts right through the heart of the island.
What we found, we didn’t entirely expect. As we ventured deeper into the island, we found many mother harbor seals hidden away nursing their pups. Some of the seals were unusually and spectacularly reddish gold in the morning sunlight (which I later learned is the result of iron oxide deposits in their hair shafts). There were great blue herons fishing in the shallow waters, and cormorants stretched out, drying their wings, on the nearby electrical towers.
The place was alive and thriving. Bair Island is a refuge for hundreds of species of wildlife, including a few that are endangered. And it’s not just a select few species, but an entire web of life.
Here, let me show you what I mean:
To fully appreciate this place and the life that now inhabits it, you first have to know a little of the history of Bair Island.
In the early 20th century, the island was used for ranching cattle, farming and salt production. At one point, a massive housing development was proposed for the island. Without the support of concerned local citizens, it could have easily gone the way of nearby Foster City.
In 1997, POST bought and protected 1,623 acres of Bair Island. Shortly after, we began work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Ducks Unlimited to restore the island with the goal of returning it to a more natural ecological state. It took some time, and in December of 2015, the final levee was breached and the life-rich waters of the Bay came rushing back to nourish the land and re-shape it over time.
How will this island change over time after its restoration? Will more vegetation fill in and deeper channels be etched in the areas of the island that right now feel like the surface of the moon? How will these changes affect the abundance and diversity of animals?
One thing is clear, this is a place early in the process of natural transformation and already hundreds of species call it home. We’re excited to watch as nature takes root and grows in real time just east of downtown Redwood City.
Want to learn more about the invisible benefits of Bair Island? Click here!
Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay for the benefit of all. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 76,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties.