July 29, 2009

Calif. marsh returns to life after century

Native plant life is growing in a wetland reclamation near Los Angeles that organizers say they hope will also attract invertebrates, rare birds and fishes.

For the first time in a century, salt water from the Pacific Ocean is pouring into 67-acre Brookhurst marsh in coastal Huntington Beach, Calif., replenishing an area that was barren much of the 20th century due to a levee that was recently breached.

Opening Huntington Beach wetlands to full tidal flow is the single most critical step in recreating nursery and foraging habitats for a diverse community of fish, invertebrates and birds, says David Witting, a fish biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Restoration Center in nearby Long Beach.

The scientific agency within the U.S. Commerce Department is overseeing much of the habitat restoration, including planting native plants such as pickleweed, cord grass and salt grass, officials and environmental groups say.

We are already seeing halibut, says Gordon Smith of the non-profit Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy.

Other species are discovering the marsh and using it too, he says. We are pleasantly surprised.

A nearby shelf sea area is contaminated with DDT and other toxins and cannot be repaired, Witting says.

The now-defunct Montrose Chemical Corp., which made DDT in Torrance, 30 miles northwest, contaminated the Palos Verdes Shelf from 1947 to 1983.

The company discharged an estimated 1,700 tons of DDT and other toxins from the late 1950s to the early 1970s into the county sewer system, which ultimately contaminated ocean sediments, says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which designated Montrose Chemical as a Superfund site.