Perhaps unsurprisingly, taking photographs from a doorless helicopter was proving more difficult than San Francisco Bay Area photographer joSon had anticipated. Bundled in ski apparel and buckled into his seat, he had done his best to prepare. But the driving winds on this chilly November day quickly numbed his fingers, and more than once his camera smacked against his face as a gust rattled the two-seater aircraft. Four thousand feet below, the placid salt ponds that lured him to this precarious position draped the southern inland tip of San Francisco Bay like a multicolored quilt.
Like many Bay Area residents, joSon’s first glimpse of the South Bay’s salt ponds was from the relative comfort of a commercial airliner. Descending into San Francisco International Airport, travelers glimpse an otherworldly landscape of geometric lines and vibrant colors fringing the jagged coastline and muddy blue-green of the Bay—the result of more than 150 years of industrial salt mining. As bay water is pumped through a series of artificial ponds, sun and steady winds cause it to evaporate, leaving each pond saltier than the one before. And as the salinity changes, so do the pigmented microorganisms that thrive in the brine, giving each pond a unique color—from the lime green of Dunaliella algae in low-salinity pools to the rose-petal reds of salt-loving halobacteria in crystallization ponds.
Although he didn’t yet realize it, joSon was documenting one of the largest wetland restoration projects in United States history.