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South San Diego Bay

Site Facts

Country, State, Province/Region:

United States, California

Relative Location:

Just south of San Diego California


32 36 N, 117 7 W



Basis for Designation:

More than 20,000 shorebirds annually


1594 hectares (3940 acres)


March 1999

Site Owner/Steward:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Site Partners:

Friends of South Bay Wildlife, National Audubon Society, San Diego Unified Port District

Human Population within 100 km:



Brian Collins
Refuge Manager
San Diego NWR


American Avocet chick resting / Photo by Lisa Cox, USFWS

The South San Diego Bay Unit of the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge was established as a WHSRN site of Regional Importance in March 1999, hosting more than 20,000 shorebirds each year. Historically the San Diego Bay consisted of intertidal mudflats, salt marshes, and shallow subtidal habitat. Years of dredging and filling for development throughout the bay have degraded these environments to a point that the South San Diego Bay Unit contains 90% of the intertidal habitat that remains.

In the fall of 2011 the South San Diego Bay Restoration and Enhancement Project was completed restoring 300 acres of estuarine habitat through excavation of degraded uplands, creating tidal channels by dredging former salt ponds, breaching levees to restore tidal movement, and the establishment of native plant communities. A five-year monitoring program is in place to understand of how these restored systems will evolve over time.

Sand Diego Bay is also a part of the Migratory Shorebird Project, a cooperative of 14 conservation science organizations to survey wintering shorebirds on the Pacific Coast of the Americas from Alaska to Peru.

In the News

Restoration project wins Coastal America Partnership Award

Ecology & Conservation

From the San Diego Bay NWR website:
"Intertidal mudflats provide foraging habitat for fish during high tide, while at low tide, great numbers of shorebirds assemble to forage on the many invertebrates available on the exposed flats. In addition to foraging, shorebirds also depend upon the mudflats for roosting and resting. The most extensive mudflats within the South Bay are those that lie to the north of the salt ponds within the Refuge Unit. The Service observed tens of thousands of birds, representing 67 species, in this area during a year-long survey conducted in 1993 and 1994. The majority of the birds observed were shorebirds and seabirds."


Brian Collins
Refuge Manager
San Diego NWR

Additional Resouces

 Stadtlander, D., and Konecny, J. 1994. Avifauna of South San Diego Bay, the western saltworks 1993-1994, Coastal Ecosystem Program. USFWS, Carlsbad, CA.