Great Egret

Eating a combination of shrimp and small fish, this great egret seems to be getting along well in the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary. This 307 acre marsh is a popular spot for walking, running, bird watching, dog walking and sunset-viewing and is an incredible alternative treatment center for wastewater, especially considering the history of the area. Federal and California state marsh reclamation acts in 1850 and 1861 resulted in Humboldt Bay losing 90% of its salt and freshwater marshlands to uses such as agriculture and shipping ports. Most of the local inhabitants fled and were replaced with invasive and aggressive species like rats and gulls. In 1965 as shipping became obsolete for the bay when railroads linked Humboldt to San Francisco, the marsh area became a landfill. Pollutants began leaking into the bay from the waste and the landfill was terminated and covered with three feet of mud. Again, the only inhabitants in this area of the bay were rats and gulls. In the late 1970s, though faced with many alternative uses, it was decided that the bay would become a marsh restoration area, waste water treatment center and aid to other conservation efforts, including salmon habitat restoration. Today, some areas directly next to the treatment facility smell like waste, but I’ve seen thousands of migratory and resident birds here including ducks, geese, shorebirds, songbirds, raptors, hummingbirds, egrets, herons and warblers and they are obviously able to eat and find shelter and water in this historically unlikely location. I find it incredibly galvanizing that the Arcata Marsh has so successfully used human waste to recreate a habitat for so many creatures, especially in light of the area’s previous degradation.