Q: What is SEA CHANGE?
Sea Change is both a celebration and a reality. It is a celebration of the work of Sonoma Land Trust and its many partners in restoring a nearly 1,000-acre tidal wetland in the San Francisco Bay. It also marks the day, October 25, that SLT will breach the historic levee at Sears Point, an action that will precipitate a change in the map of the SF Bay.

Q: Why is SEA CHANGE important?
Breaching the levee will mark the moment in time when the San Francisco Bay was allowed to reoccupy more of its historic space in the North Bay after being diked off for some 140 years. More than 90 percent of the bay’s tidal wetlands were lost to conversion between 1850 and 1960. This brought with it a rapid decline in species that depend on tidal wetlands for habitat, as well as reducing or eliminating the vital role of wetlands in capturing carbon, filtering pollutants, and buffering our infrastructure from the rising seas and storm surges expected in the coming decades.

Q: Where will it take place?
Roughly located immediately south of the intersection of Lakeville Highway and State Route 37 on Reclamation Road (which is the southern extension of Lakeville Highway).

Q: What should people wear to Sea Change?
Sturdy walking shoes and a jacket for potential wind and/or rain. Be prepared for a one-mile, 20-30 minute walk along uneven ground to the breach site.

Q: How much did this project cost?
$18 million in grants from federal, state and local governments, as well as nonprofit organizations and private foundations. (See attached list.) This is by far the least expensive way to prepare for sea level rise and large storm surges that are expected to cause billions in damage to coastal areas in coming decades due to climate change.

Q: What area does it cover?
The tidal restoration area is nearly 1,000 acres spanning 2.5 miles. We’ve also worked in the surrounding watershed. SLT has protected over 6,500 acres along the Sonoma shoreline of San Pablo Bay and in the hills immediately adjacent.

Q: What will public access look like?
Along with a kayak ramp, we have also built a new 2.5-mile section of the San Francisco Bay Trail that will follow the crest of our new levee and provide some of the best access to the bay in Sonoma County. We’ve also built a new parking lot for hikers and school buses, and 1.3 additional miles of inland trail from the parking lot to the Refuge headquarters and Sonoma Land Trust’s Baylands Center.

Before we can open the restoration site, however, we need to construct safety features associated with the railroad. We expect the site and the Bay Trail to open to the public by early 2016. By the end of the year, the site will transfer from Land Trust ownership to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and will become part of the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Q: What kind of wildlife can I expect to see there?
Raptors, waterfowl, shorebirds, otters, seals, jackrabbits and deer are all possible. The site will be busy on breach day so the best chance to see wildlife will be when the trail opens.

Q: How will the levee be breached?
With the help of an excavator, a 285-foot-wide breach will be created at high tide that will fully connect the project site to the bay. The water is expected to fill the tidal basin within 24 hours. Over the following weeks, more than one mile of the old levee will be lowered and a second breach will be excavated, all to ensure that the site is fully connected with the bay. Then, since tidal marshes form over long periods of time, it will take two to three decades to fill in with vegetation. In the meanwhile, waterfowl and other birds will fill the basin with flight and song.

Q: What will be the effect on surrounding areas?
There will be no negative effects on the surrounding areas. Sonoma Land Trust built a new 2.5-mile long levee to protect the surrounding lands from the bay water — and also constructed two stormwater pumps to remove rain water that would otherwise back up against the landward side of the levee and flood roadways, railroad tracks and neighboring properties. The water is not stored because of a lack of room and because it is vital for healthy tidal wetlands to receive freshwater and sediment from the surrounding watershed.

Q: How soon will this begin to look like tidal marsh?
While portions of the project site that are already at the correct elevation will be colonized quickly by marsh vegetation, such as cordgrass and pickleweed, the site is unlikely to become fully vegetated for two to three decades. In the meantime, the open water that fills the site will provide immediate habitat for resident and migrating waterfowl. Bat rays, leopard sharks and other fish will also quickly make use of the open water. Over time, as the vegetation expands, we anticipate the return of rare and endangered species, such as the Ridgway’s rail (formerly known as the California clapper rail) and the salt marsh harvest mouse.

Q: Are there any known wildlife species of special concern that may settle into the newly created wetlands?
Salt marsh harvest mouse and Ridgeway’s rail (formerly California clapper rail) are both endangered species that are expected to occupy the site once tidal vegetation is widespread.

Q: What’s the history of this land and from whom was the land purchased?
Around 6,000 years ago, after a period of warmth that melted glaciers and caused seas to rise, the climate became cooler and wetter. Over the next few millennia, tidal marshes emerged along the edges of the estuary fed by an interplay of the Pacific Ocean’s tides and rivers that poured freshwater and sediments out of the mountains. These marshes became rich habitat teeming with plants and wildlife. Then, in the mid-1800s, the time of the Gold Rush, European settlers diked, drained and filled 90 percent of the marshlands around the bay to make farms and cities and room for a growing human population.

Sears Point Ranch, the site of this restoration, includes two separate properties. One was purchased from the Dickson Family and the other from an investment group.

Q: What would have happened to the land if SLT hadn’t purchased it?
The land faced multiple development proposals over the years. It is likely that one day, one of these proposals would have succeeded in transforming this site from one that can be restored to one that could not.

Q: What were the innovations included in this project?
Most wetland restoration projects of this scale cost considerably more than the Sears Point. This endeavor has benefited from lessons learned from previous projects — and from nature itself. For example:

Because the reclaimed land that had been diked and dried was composed of peaty soils that were exposed after thousands of years underwater, the soils began to decompose, causing the land to sink! Thus, the tidal basin now sits 6-7 feet below sea level and must be raised to its historic elevation in order for the tidal marsh plants to grow. Typically, this means an enormous amount of sediment must be brought in to the site, a very expensive proposition. In this case, we are relying on the natural cycles of the tides to deliver the soil for us. Our intent is to let in muddy water through the levee breach and then rob it of its sediment before it flows back to the bay with the help of 500 “marsh mounds.” We expect these mounds of dirt to break up the prevailing winds across the newly flooded 1,000 acres and so discourage the formation of waves. Calm waters will allow the suspended mud in the water to settle out and gradually build the site up to an elevation at which plants can establish.

We built a 2.5-mile-long levee on the northern side of the tidal basin to provide flood protection to the railroad, Highway 37 and neighboring lands. Additionally, this “habitat” levee, utilizing a new, sloping design, will provide homes and refuge for marsh wildlife from predators and storm surges. The levee will also provide exceptional public access to the evolving marshland.

The levee required more than one million yards of soil to build — an amount that would fill dump trucks in a line from San Francisco to San Diego. Instead of importing the soil, miles of channels within the site were excavated, in part, so that the soil could be used to construct the levee.

Q: What can I do to help out in the area?
SLT and USFWS will hold periodic volunteer days for planting the new levee and other areas. Stay tuned to the websites of both organizations.

Q: What will Sonoma Land Trust do to steward the area after the breach?
The site will become the property of the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge, probably by the end of 2015. SLT will continue to plant native species on the new levee and in disturbed areas and will manage invasive species over the next few years. SLT is also responsible for monitoring the development of the new marsh over the next 15 years.


  • CA Wildlife Conservation Board
  • U.S. EPA San Francisco Bay Water Quality Improvement Fund
  • CA State Coastal Conservancy
  • Federal Highway Administration
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Coastal Wetland Conservation Program
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service North American Wetland Conservation Program
  • National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Cosco Busan Recreational Use Program
  • National Fish and Wildlife Foundation San Francisco Bay Conservation Fund
  • CA Department of Water Resources Integrated Regional Water Management Program
  • CA Department of Fish and Wildlife Environmental Enhancement Fund
  • Bay Trail
  • NOAA Restoration Center
  • NOAA Ducks Unlimited Restoration Partnership
  • Ducks Unlimited (In-Kind)