As the heart and lungs of San Francisco Bay, wetlands fulfill a central role in community and environmental health. They provide vital habitat, supporting over 500 species of fish and wildlife, from the smallest microorganisms to the largest of seals. Scientists agree that the Bay needs 100,000 acres of tidal wetlands to thrive, but as of today less than half that number exists. It is to that end that Save The Bay is working tirelessly, hosting weekly volunteer based community restoration events, to re-establish the 100,000 acres of wetlands essential for a healthy Bay.
I recently attended one of Save The Bay’s volunteer events, which offer local residents the opportunity to have a direct impact on the health of their Bay and community. This particular event occurred at Save The Bay’s native plant nursery on the Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Regional Shoreline, a part of the East Bay Regional Park District, located in Oakland. The Shoreline includes the mouths of five major creek systems and protects some of the last remaining wetland habitat in the East Bay, including Damon Slough and beautiful Arrowhead Marsh. This 50-acre marsh provides habitat to a host of species, including the burrowing owl and the endangered California clapper rail, and is a stopover on the Pacific Flyway. The only sounds to be heard during the volunteer event that day came from an assemblage of gulls and terns nearby. There were intermittent bird calls as well as the occasional splash of a tern diving into the water looking to catch its next meal. It was an otherwise very quiet and peaceful day, with a soft breeze coming off the Bay. It was like a scene straight out of Henry Beston’s The Outermost House.
Over the course of the afternoon the team of 15 volunteers planted 75 native seedlings along the shoreline, including Blue Eyed Grass, California Poppy, Naked Buckwheat, and Mugwort, and we transplanted approximately 200 stems of the Alkali Bulrush plant. We removed invasive weeds to give native plants like the California Sagebrush, Western Goldenrod, and Marsh Baccharis more space to grow and thrive. We also made sure that all of the flowers and plants received plenty of water, which was especially important considering the lack of rain over the winter. Not too bad for an afternoon’s work. Each of the activities we completed that day was an invaluable part of achieving Save The Bay’s goals for restoring the Bay.
As the day came to a close I thought to myself how great it was to see a group of volunteers, consisting of strangers of various ages and ethnicities, coming together to work on such a critical project. It was also very satisfying, personally, getting outside on a beautiful sunny day by the water, gaining some extra knowledge about wetland habitats, and helping in a tangible way to restore and protect the Bay.