Estuaries: a nursery ground, a resting place, a smorgasbord; where rivers meet the sea. If you're a nature enthusiast you've probably heard this description before. But what exactly does it mean? And what in the world is a slough anyway? A visit to the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve is a great way to find all this out, and much more.
Elkhorn Slough is a seven-mile arm of the Monterey Bay located half way between the cities of Santa Cruz and Monterey. This arm has a bend in it as it extends inland, and at the "elbow" lies the reserve. The reserve is owned and managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and it operates in partnership with the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the local, non-profit Elkhorn Slough Foundation. It is one of 22 national estuarine research reserves around the country that serve as representative estuaries for research, education and habitat stewardship. It was designated as an ecological reserve by the Fish and Game Commission in 1980.
The approximately 1,700 acres that comprise the reserve include salt marsh, mud flat, freshwater pond, oak woodland, and grassland habitats. A stroll on any one of the three loop trails reveals a variety of both wetland and upland wildlife. It is not uncommon for a black-tailed deer to be foraging in the oaks while a grey smoothhound shark is gliding through the backwater shallows just below in search of a meal of mud crabs.
For more information, visit ElkhornSlough.org or call the reserve at (831) 728-2822 or the Central Region Fresno office at (559) 243-4005 x151.