What would the Bay be like without sharks?

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Often unfairly and inaccurately cast in movies as the violent villain of the deep, sharks play a starring role in maintaining the health of their ecosystem. So much so that their absence would drastically throw their habitat and food web entirely out of whack.

As an apex predator, their top down regulation of prey species indirectly benefits the habitat quality and availability. For example, sharks eat sea turtles, sea turtles eat seagrass, and numerous animals use seagrass as habitat. If sharks are not around to regulate the sea turtle population, then seagrass beds become overgrazed, effectively demolishing habitat and nursery areas for several species of fish and invertebrates.

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In other words, when sharks are present, they increase biodiversity in habitats as they prevent any one prey item from becoming too abundant. They also usually hunt fish that are slower and weaker, leaving the stronger, healthier fish to reproduce. This process can prevent the spread of devastating disease outbreaks and strengthen the prey species’ gene pool.

All in all, the loss of keystone species and release of predator regulation over prey populations results in a ripple effect through the food chain, upsetting the balance of a marine environment. Humans have already caused a major decline in shark numbers, and this same thing can happen here in San Francisco Bay.

What effect might the recent die off of hundreds of leopard sharks have on the Bay? What would happen to the sea lion population if there were no more white sharks patrolling the waters under the Golden Gate Bridge? One can speculate at the thought of these impacts on our Bay, or we can affect change through action.

Here are a few things you can do to help our local shark species thrive in San Francisco Bay:

  1. Volunteer to restore Bay wetlands: Often referred to as the “lungs of the Bay” our local wetlands help improve the Bay’s water quality, naturally protect communities from sea level rise, and provides nursery habitat for sharks and other wildlife that call the Bay Area home. Register for a Bay restoration event near you today!
  2. Reduce pollution at the source: Our Bay’s keystone species (among others) need a trash-free Bay to thrive. That’s why we’re now pressuring Bay Area cities to eliminate the flow of trash from city streets into the Bay by 2022, but it will take all of us to accomplish this ambitious goal. Take time to organize or volunteer for neighborhood cleanups, urge your local officials to prioritize stormwater projects, and if you haven’t already take the Zero Trash Pledge!

12 months of Bay photos: Get your Save The Bay 2018 calendar today!

2018 Save The Bay Calendar photos

 

I am thrilled to share with you the 2018 Save The Bay calendar, featuring beautiful photos of the Bay Area taken by our dedicated members and volunteers.

As the federal government continues to threaten environmental protections across the nation, our efforts to keep our Bay clean and healthy for wildlife and people have become more important than ever. The beautiful photos in this calendar illustrate what’s at stake: crucial habitat for wildlife, incredible views, and irreplaceable, flood-defending wetlands.

Your gift of just $10 or more will help mitigate the impacts of climate change on our communities, restore wetlands, and reduce toxic pollution in the Bay Area. As a special thank you, we will send you the beautiful 2018 Save The Bay calendar to remind you of the beauty your donation is helping to save.

Make a special tax-deductible contribution of just $10 or more, and we’ll send you a copy of this gorgeous full-color wall calendar as our thank you.

Save The Bay’s calendar cover photo contest winner

After careful deliberation, the cover photo and images for next year’s calendar have been chosen! Congratulations to our 2018 Calendar Cover Photo Winner, Mike Oria! Mike’s photo, Day Break from Clipper Cove, highlights the Golden Gate Bridge’s lesser-known sibling, the eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

Day Break from Clipper Cove - Mike Oria

In addition to connecting San Francisco to the East Bay, here are some of our favorite facts about this bridge:

  1. You can bike the Bay Bridge! The 2.2 mile Alexander Zuckermann Bike Path spans between Oakland and Yerba Buena Island.
  2. The Bay Bridge has built in “corm condos” for double-crested cormorants. The eastern span of the Bay Bridge is equipped with special platforms, mirror boxes, constructed nests, and bird decoys, all meant to attract cormorants to the new habitat.
  3. The old Bay Bridge is being repurposed in creative ways. The Bay Bridge Steel Program is making materials from the old portion of the bridge available for creative reuse in civic and public art projects, like this statue at Joshua Tree National Park.

Oakland Agrees to Fund More Trash Removal

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Save The Bay’s campaign to accelerate trash reduction has scored a major victory!

After a contentious month of budget hearings, the Oakland City Council approved a two-year budget at the end of June that includes significant new investments recommended by Save The Bay to keep trash off Oakland city streets and out of San Francisco Bay. Oakland funded two new cleanup crews to remove trash from illegal dumping sites and homeless encampments by adding $1.6 million to the budget, with another $150,000 for additional operations to clear stormwater-related trash from streets. The city also authorized installing full trash capture devices in storm drains through transportation and streetscape improvement projects funded by Measure KK. Voters approved that Oakland infrastructure bond endorsed by Save The Bay in 2016.

The City Council was poised to add another $350,000 for one-time costs to onboard the new cleanup crews, but deferred consideration until later this year because of a procedural hurdle. Now the challenge will be to implement these measures quickly and remove street trash that will otherwise end up in creeks and the Bay, especially as rains return this autumn.

For Oakland to demonstrate its trash reduction schedule alignment with the Regional Water Quality Control Board’s requirement, the city will have to hire and deploy the new clean-up crews, and document how much more trash they are removing. The city also needs to specify how many trash capture devices will be installed in high-trash generating areas and how soon. In September, Oakland will have to report to the Water Board whether it is close to achieving the goal of 70 percent reduction in trash below 2009 levels, or face enforcement action that could include penalties. We’ll be assessing that report along with other Bay Area cities.

How did we make trash cleanup a bigger priority in Oakland? Our community allies provided crucial support for inclusion of these trash reduction measures in the budget, especially Oakland Community Organizations (OCO), SEIU Local 1021, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), and the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE). These groups have been working for years to reduce blight, improve public health, and increase quality of life for residents and working in Oakland neighborhoods.

With broad backing, our recommendations ultimately were incorporated into both the Oakland City Council President’s Budget supported by Mayor Schaaf – backed by Councilmembers Reid, Guillen, Gibson McElhaney, Campbell Washington, and Kalb – and the People’s Budget backed by Councilmembers Brooks, Kaplan, and Gallo.

This outpouring of support and the council’s positive response show again that Bay Area residents love San Francisco Bay, and want cities to make the Bay clean and healthy for everyone who lives here.

While each city’s process and politics are different, we learned a lot from Oakland that will guide our efforts with other cities that are not meeting the regional stormwater permit limits on trash flowing to the Bay:

  • Local alliances are crucial for effective grassroots pressure and direct lobbying, especially when we team with partners from beyond the traditional environmental realm.
  • Save The Bay is trusted by the news media and can generate good coverage of this issue – here is an excellent example.
  • Our technical expertise and good working relationship with the Regional Water Board staff positions us well as a credible voice on permit requirements and trash treatment options.
  • Even a small number of Save The Bay activists who show up to advocate with their local officials can have a big impact.

We’ll be working this summer and fall to help more cities keep trash out of the Bay.

Flooding Study Results Require Action

When heavy rains returned to California last winter after an extensive drought, some Bay Area cities experienced flooding for the first time in many years.  Now, a new study shows that kind of flooding will become chronic in many Bay Area locations in the decades to come.

The Union of Concerned Scientists report provides even more detail on how much climate change will affect specific Bay shoreline cities, and how soon.

As early as 2035, neighborhoods all around the Bay Area–on Bay Farm Island, Alameda, Redwood Shores, Sunnyvale, Alviso, Corte Madera, and Larkspur– would experience flooding 26 times per year or more, and that’s with moderate sea level rise.  By 2060, the number of affected neighborhoods grows to include Oakland, Milpitas, Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, and others along the corridor between San Francisco and Silicon Valley. If the sea level rises faster, that frequency of flooding will occur sooner. Read the full report at http://bit.ly/2vacc5j.

The report raises another problem. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s maps of flood-prone areas are outdated and don’t reflect sea level rise projections. Those maps determine where property owners can and cannot qualify for federally-subsidized flood insurance, and where communities must construct additional flood protection to retain that insurance.

Outdated maps give communities a false sense of security and lead to uninformed development decisions.  Just ask those homeowners near Coyote Creek in San Jose who were flooded out a few months ago.

The State of California and its agencies, including the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, should be aggressively reducing risks to people and property from climate impacts – that has been explicit in the State’s climate adaptation strategy since 2009.  Pressing FEMA for updated maps should be high on the priority list.

Here’s a report on the UCS study in the San Jose Mercury News, which quotes Save The Bay:

A Feb. 21 photo from a San Jose city worker shows flooding at 1742 Rock Springs Drive. (City of San Jose)
A Feb. 21 photo from a San Jose city worker shows flooding at 1742 Rock Springs Drive. (City of San Jose)

Chronic flooding from rising seas could plague many Bay Area waterfront communities such as East Palo Alto, Alameda and San Mateo within four decades, a nonprofit science group said in a report released Wednesday.

While other studies have predicted inundation of coastal cities, this new study by the Union of Concerned Scientists is the first to put dates on when towns that ring the San Francisco Bay would regularly experience chronic flooding.

Rather than slam shoreline communities with epic floods every few years, rising sea levels threatens to flood streets, yards, parks, homes and businesses in low-lying areas several times a year, the scientists said.

“Cities around the San Francisco Bay will begin to experience more frequent and disruptive flooding in the coming decades and will have to make tough decisions around whether to defend existing homes and businesses or to retreat,” said Erika Spanger-Siegfried, senior analyst in the Climate and Energy Program at UCS and a report author.

Airports and low-income housing in low areas are particularly vulnerable, the study said.

While airports can draw on business income to pay for defenses against rising seas, many poorer neighborhoods are hard pressed to afford bigger seawalls or levees or to move people out of flood-prone areas, said Kristy Dahl, a UCS climate scientist and co-author of the report.

She said the report underscores the need for federal policies to help local communities.

“We shouldn’t have some communities left behind simply because they don’t have the resources of their neighbors,” Dahl said in an Oakland press conference to discuss the study. “A large number of these communities don’t have the resources they truly need to adapt.”

Last year, the federal government announced its first grant to buy and relocate a small town — Isle de Jean Charles, La. — for $48 million after concluding it was not worth trying to save the community in place.

The Union for Concerned Scientists study assessed three scenarios — low, intermediate and high sea-level rise — by the years 2060 and 2100, depending on the pace of emissions and melting rates of polar ice. An interactive series of maps show when inundated communities may reach tipping point, with at least 10 percent of usable land flooded at least 26 times per year.

The study found that:

  • By 2060, in the high sea level rise scenario, parts of many Bay Area communities would face flooding 26 times or more per year, or every other week. Communities with affected neighborhoods include Alameda, Oakland, Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, San Mateo, Burlingame, San Francisco, Corte Madera and Larkspur.
  • By 2100, in the intermediate sea level rise scenario, chronic flooding would affect public infrastructure such as San Francisco International Airport, Oakland International Airport, San Quentin State Prison, Moffett Federal Airfield and the Bay Bridge.
  • By 2100, in the intermediate sea level rise scenario, two Bay Area communities would see more than 10 percent of their land chronically flooded: Alameda and San Mateo.
  • By 2100, in the high sea level rise scenario, more than half of Alameda, about 11 percent of South San Francisco and about 14 percent of Oakland’s land area would be chronically flooded.

“Imagine what it would be like to have your driveway and backyard flooded every every other week on average,” Dahl said, “And you can’t let your kids play in the back yard because it’s flooded.”

The “low scenario” assumes a San Francisco Bay water level rise of around 2 feet by 2100, a carbon emissions decline, and global warming limited to less than two degrees Celsius — in line with the primary goal of the Paris Agreement.

The “intermediate scenario” projects a four-foot water level rise and carbon emissions peaking around mid-century and about four feet of sea level rise globally. In the high scenario, emissions rise through the end of the century and ice melts faster, causing 6.5 feet of sea  level rise.

The group applauded efforts by cities such as San Francisco and Foster City, which already have begun planning where and how to build seawalls and levees. Other regions — such as the cities of Alameda, Hayward and Oakland and Contra Costa, San Mateo, Alameda and Santa Clara  counties — are close behind, identifying potential strategies.

Welcoming the report, David Lewis of the Oakland-based nonprofit Save The Bay said it underscored the need for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to update Bay Area flood maps to reflect new projections. Those flood maps determine where property owners can and cannot qualify for federally-subsidized flood insurance, and where communities must construct additional flood protection to retain that insurance.

He urged the state to press FEMA to update the maps. Congress also must be prodded to provide funding for the updates, he added.

“If maps don’t incorporate projections for sea level rise — and for increased frequency of flooding from extreme storms independent of sea level rise — then communities have a false sense of security, and property values, as well as public and private planning and development decisions, don’t accurately reflect risks,” said Lewis.

“Ask those homeowners near Coyote Creek,” which flooded last winter, he said.


This article was originally published in The Mercury News by Lisa Kreiger and Denis Cuff on 7/12/2017.