The mouth of the Elkhorn Slough has long been known for its natural salt ponds. In the late 1800s these areas were developed to produce salt for local use. In 1916, the Monterey Bay Salt Company diked parts of the slough to create commercial salt ponds – a series of ponds where saltwater evaporates in the sun, leaving salt for harvest.
From 1902 until the local fish cannery business collapsed in the mid-1950s, the salt was used to preserve the fish. Later, the salt was used for water softening, refrigeration, and making ice cream. The company continued salt production until 1973. For a short time, the ponds were used to produce brine shrimp.
Today, the Moss Landing Wildlife Area comprises 872 acres that help protect the brown pelican, which was previously listed as an endangered species. Both brown and white pelicans use the ponds along with thousands of small shorebirds. The area is managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The salt ponds are home to many birds, including American avocets and black-necked stilts. The threatened snowy plover also uses the salt ponds as nesting grounds and has recently become the focus of management for this area.
Take the Self-Guided Mobile Tour
This piece is part of the Santa Cruz Marine Protected Areas Beaches Tour made possible by the Santa Cruz Collaborative with support from the California Marine Sanctuary Foundation and the Resources Legacy Fund. Download the free app with many tours of the Santa Cruz area and beyond.
- Elkhorn Slough Tidal Wetland Plan: Evolution of Elkhorn Slough and Associated Wetlands 20,000 years before present (ybp) to 1880 A.D. Andrea Woolfolk. Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Reserve. September 7, 2005.
- Elkhorn Slough Tidal Wetland Plan: 150 Years of Human Alterations and Tidal Habitat Change (1870 - Present). Barb Peichel, Kerstin Wasson, Andrea Woolfolk, Eric Van Dyke. Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve. February 20, 2005.
- Changes in a California Estuary: A Profile of Elkhorn Slough. Edited by Jane Caffrey, Martha Brown, W. Breck Tyler, and Mark Silberstein. 2002 Elkhorn Slough Foundation.
- What is a Salt Marsh? National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Website.