Row crops were introduced to the areas around Elkhorn Slough in the late 1800s. The majority of these crops were strawberries because the slough’s perimeter has ideal growing conditions with a moderate climate and well-drained soils.
The Azevedo Ranch, just about one mile up the slough from the Wildlife Viewing Area, was one such strawberry farm. They grew their berries next to the Azevedo Marshes, a series of pocket wetlands that were cut off from the slough in the 1870s with the construction of a railroad embankment. The strawberries were grown right to the edge of the slough, and like all berry farmers of the day, they applied chemical fertilizers containing high levels of nitrogen to the crops.
If runoff goes unchecked, the addition of nitrogen can lead to massive algal blooms that deplete the oxygen in the water, making it impossible for almost any other species to survive.
In 1991, the Nature Conservancy acquired the ranch with funding from the Coastal Conservancy. Soon after, they took the strawberry fields adjacent to the slough out of strawberry production. Instead, they planted a native vegetation buffer. Today, the ranch has 24 acres of native plants between its strawberry producing crops and the marshes. This creates a natural buffer zone that traps nutrients and sediments and decreases nitrogen input into the slough. Azevedo Ranch is still owned by the Nature Conservancy, but it is managed by the Elkhorn Slough Foundation. This is a working example of how agriculture can co-exist next to a natural ecosystem without too much negative impact.
A Great Side Trip
We recommend a visit to the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve at 1700 Elkhorn Road. They have a visitor center and a wonderful overlook where you can view much of the Elkhorn Slough. There are also five miles of trails to enjoy the grasslands, oak woodland, and wetlands of the Elkhorn Slough. There is a small admission fee for people over the age of 16. If you have a hunting or fishing license, you’ve already paid.
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.
- Coastal Conservancy Azevedo Marshes Wetland Enhancement. Coastal Conservancy. September 15, 2004. Coastal Conservancy
- Elkhorn Slough Foundation Property: Azevedo Ranch. Elkhorn Slough Website.