For our programs

By Steph Wald

What do helicopters and Steelhead habitat restoration have in common? Most of the time, not much. But that’s about to change for the Carmel River Lagoon.

Steelhead need refuge, a place to hide from predators and rest when the lagoon is closed and Steelhead cannot migrate to the ocean. This project does just that. We are placing large structures in the estuary made of root-wads (root system of upended trees) and boulders into the river. Obviously, these structures, known in the field as “Large Woody Debris,” can be immense and the best way, and most dramatic way, to place them are by HELICOPTER.

Above: Helicopter transporting woody debris in Oregon. Photo by Michael Lloyd, The Oregonian

Above: Helicopter transporting woody debris in Oregon. Photo by Michael Lloyd, The Oregonian

Instead of using heavy equipment to move the boulder root-wad structures, a helicopter will fly them to specific predetermined sites in the lagoon. Using a helicopter for this project eliminates the need for and the damages heavy equipment could otherwise have on this sensitive habitat.

Similar to most restoration projects, the success of this endeavor rests on the strength of its partnerships. The team is comprised of Central Coast Salmon Enhancement, MEarth, the California Conservation Corps, Stillwater Sciences, and the Carmel River Steelhead Association. The project is funded by the CA State Coastal Conservancy.

Each project partner has its role in the collaboration. CCSE ensures that all permits and required environmental clearances are applied for and received, as well as provide administrative services for contracts and invoices. Stillwater and CCSE will team up to design the structures and determine where they’ll be placed in the lagoon, as well as conduct long term monitoring to measure the effectiveness of the structures. MEarth will conduct pre-construction monitoring, post-construction revegetation, and long term vegetation monitoring to make sure plants survive. California Conservation Corps members from Monterey and our local NOAA Veterans will partially assemble the structures at a staging area and finish assembly at the pay-load drop site.

All of these organizations working together results in big splashes this spring or summer in the Carmel River. Stay tuned for exciting helicopter fish stories to come in 2016!