This is ancient salt marsh, a remnant of wetlands that used to surround San Francisco Bay. Only 5-10% remain. All around the bay, environmental non-profits are working with citizens to restore wetlands. Transition zones and marshes are being planted, and levees are being breached. Eventually wetlands will once again surround the entire bay.
But why does it matter? After all, sometimes the existing marshes and mudflats are pretty smelly, but that is a sign of the richness of living things being nurtured there! Here are just a few of the ecosystem services provided by wetlands. In the wetlands, marshes and estuaries, the soils sponge up water and release it slowly, helping to mitigate flooding. The marsh plants’ roots form a mesh that traps sediments and pollutants flowing into the bay from creeks and rivers. Wetlands act as nurseries for the immature larvae of many different species–some of which, like crabs and fish, are commercially valuable, and all of which play roles in the ecosystem. There is much more (Google!) but here’s one that’s of huge importance: wetlands, mudflats, and marshes act as a buffer zone, protecting areas further inland from storm surges and sea level rise. And here’s another service they provide that is vitally important: salt marshes and mudflats are especially powerful in carbon sequestration!