California’s Estuaries Go Virtual This Summer

Suzanne Potter | California News Service
The Tijuana River Estuarine Research Reserve offers midday online programs on a different topic every Tuesday. Photo Credit: Osbomb/Flickr

IMPERIAL BEACH, Calif. — The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way families, educators and students can experience state parks — through expanded online programs.

The Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve, on the U.S.-Mexican border south of San Diego, showcases the salt marsh where the Tijuana River meets the Pacific Ocean.

Education coordinator Anne Marie Tipton says the reserve’s virtual field trips teach classrooms around the state about the estuary’s role in the environment.

“It filters out pollution, and it will also buffer storms,” she points out. “It’s a nursery for the ocean. We actually are a nursery for halibut. And we sequester or grab carbon out of the atmosphere. ”

California has lost 90% of its wetlands to development. The reserve is an important stop on the Pacific Flyway and shelters 370 species of birds. The visitor center is closed due to the pandemic, but trails are still open.

Check out the reserve’s Facebook page to sign up for virtual junior ranger programs.

Tipton says the salt marsh in the estuary boosts the fight against climate change.

“They grab that carbon through photosynthesis better than any other plant community in the world because no one eats it,” she explains. “It doesn’t burn. The salt water impedes methane production, which is a big heat-trapping gas. Salt marshes are really the unsung heroes of the world. ”

California’s two other National Estuarine Research Reserves at Elkhorn Slough near Monterey Bay and in San Francisco Bay also offer virtual programs this summer.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.