Protecting the Bay Is the Thing to Do—No Ifs, Ands or Butts

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One of the most widespread pollutants of the Bay is something that gets scant notice from passers-by, but remains surprisingly, and disturbingly, widespread: cigarette butts are polluting the Bay by the tens of thousands.

Cigarette butts are not biodegradable and contain toxic materials that can harm birds, animals and fish. Here’s a detailed fact sheet from The Cigarette Butt Pollution Project.

On a fine spring morning this May, a Save The Bay team fanned out across San Mateo to do a survey of just how many cigarette butts get tossed as litter. Why San Mateo? That’s because the San Mateo City Council enacted an ordinance that went into effect Nov. 15, 2015. We wanted to see how that ordinance is playing out on the streets. This was a follow-up to a survey done in 2014.

In a daylong expedition, the team surveyed shopping centers, parks, bus stops and city sidewalks. The team gingerly plucked cigarette butts with gloved hands and deposited them in collections bags, maintaining a tally as we went along. Curious citizens asked what the heck we were doing, giving us a chance to explain about the hazards of cigarette butts. Our efforts were greeted with supportive comments, whether from shoppers or street people.

We picked up a grand total of 3,056 butts from 15 sites. That’s compared with 2,635 found in survey Save The Bay did at the same sites in 2014.

The results show there’s still a long way to go in the battle against the butts. Here’s what we found as Ethan Tucker, policy associate with Save the Bay, reported in this summary:

“Overall, at the sites we surveyed in San Mateo we found a slight but substantial increase in cigarette litter. Though the city passed a smoking ordinance in 2015 that prohibits smoking at parks and recreation areas, on city sidewalks, and at bus stops it is clear that the ban has not been implemented effectively. We expected to see a reduction in the amount of cigarette litter found at these sites since the ban has been in place for over a year. However, 12 of the 15 sites that we looked at had more cigarette litter in 2016 than they had in 2014, additionally, we noticed that even though a smoking ban is now in place at most of the sites we surveyed, an ordinary passerby would have no way of knowing that smoking is not permitted since most of these areas are without any signage.”

Despite public awareness about the health hazards of smoking, much remains to be done to get the butts off the streets and out of the Bay environment. With your help, progress is being made. In April, the East Bay Regional Parks District’s Board of Directors adopted a policy that will prohibit smoking in most areas of the parks. This will help keep the toxic litter out of creeks that flow to the bay.

What can you do? Contact your local government representatives and encourage them to adopt and enforce anti-smoking and anti-litter laws.

Click here to support Save The Bay’s efforts to preserve and protect the Bay’s waters.

Restoration projects bring birds back to SF Bay

The South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project has restored about 3,000 acres of habitat in the past 12 years, and the bird population has doubled. Photo courtesy of Nasa.
The South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project has restored about 3,000 acres of habitat in the past 12 years, and the local bird population has doubled. With adequate funding, this project would restore 15,000 acres. Measure AA would fund critical restoration projects like this one. Photo courtesy of NASA.

The ambitious South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project, the largest tidal wetland restoration project on the West Coast, is already seeing some impressive results, according to biologists who have surveyed the area.

The populations of ducks and shorebirds in the area have doubled over 12 years, from 100,000 in 2002 to 200,000 in 2014, according to a report issued in October by researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey and other agencies.

“It shows that what’s been done so far appears to be working. It’s really great,” said Susan De La Cruz, a wildlife biologist with the USGS who did much of the research told the Mercury News.

The success of the California Coastal Conservancy’s South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project is an example of how wetland restoration can improve habitat for wildlife such as birds, fish, seals, and sharks, in addition to reducing the risk of flooding due to sea level rise associated with climate change,” says Donna Ball, Habitat Restoration Director for Save The Bay.

Historically, diking off wetlands along the bay’s shore for production of salt was a major factor in losing much of the bay’s tidal marshland.  Starting in the 1850s, salt production became a major industry, covering some 16,500 acres, most of which was owned by Cargill Inc. In 2003, Cargill sold 15,000 acres to state and federal agencies and private foundations, which drew up plans to restore the salt ponds to a more natural condition.

Already the South Bay restoration project has reconnected about 3,000 acres of salt ponds to the bay with the goal of revitalizing them as tidal marshes.  When complete, the project will have restored 15,000 acres of former salt ponds to wetlands and other vital habitats.

The South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project is scheduled to be completed over the next 50 years if funding is available. Measure AA on the June 7 ballot is designed to generate $500 million over the next 20 years to provide funds for this project and many others throughout the Bay Area.

All around San Francisco Bay, there are more than 30,000 acres awaiting restoration. Your YES vote for Measure AA will help provide the funding needed for many of these much-needed projects.

How Measure AA could benefit your county

Restoration Map
Examples of projects that could be eligible for funds generated by Measure AA. Map courtesy of San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority

Measure AA for a Clean and Healthy Bay on the June ballot would generate, via a modest $12 parcel tax, badly needed funding for restoration of San Francisco Bay wetlands to benefit people, wildlife and the Bay Area economy.  Here are some examples of specific projects throughout the Bay Area that could be funded by Measure AA:

Alameda County: At the Alameda Point Seaplane Lagoon, vast paved areas could be transformed into ecologically rich habitats and wetlands with visitor amenities, including picnic and camping areas, a pedestrian and bicycle promenade, and water access points for boats.

Contra Costa County: At the North Richmond Shoreline and San Pablo Marsh, projects could  include improvement of endangered California Ridgway’s Rail habitat, removal of imported fill, establishment of transitional habitats between the marsh and upland areas, and development of public access for wildlife viewing and education.

Marin County: At Richardson Bay, funds could go to sand and gravel bay beach designs to combat shoreline erosion due to sea level rise. Funds could also go to protecting one of San Francisco Bay’s largest eelgrass beds, which provide food and shelter for fish and invertebrates and feeding grounds for migratory water birds.

Napa County: Funds could go toward implementation of the Napa County Youth Ecology Corps, which aims to train young adults in natural resource management. Crews would work on invasive species management and habitat enhancement projects to improve the resilience of tidal wetlands and buffer against sea level rise.

San Francisco: At China Basin Park, just across from the Giants’ AT&T Park, funding could be used for design and construction of a new, more natural shoreline to replace the current rip-rap. This would create habitat, improve public access and protect the park from sea level rise.

San Mateo County: At the popular Coyote Point Recreation Area, funding could be provided for the Eastern Promenade Project including a beach restoration project designed to protect the shoreline against  future sea level rise as well as against high winds and constant wave action. Projects could also include a trail from the Western Promenade to the Bluff trail on the Coyote Point knoll, along with visitor amenities, such as a new restroom and picnic areas.

Santa Clara County: The Alviso Ponds, part of the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project, could include over 700 acres of wetland restoration in the Mountain View area, restoration of over 1,400 acres of wetlands in Alviso to improve fish habitat and water quality, enhancements to over 250 acres of wetlands in the Milpitas area, and new trails and interpretive features.

Sonoma County: At Sears Point, funds could go toward completion of tidal marsh restoration, improving habitat at newly restored wetlands to encourage the return of rare and endangered species  such as the Ridgway’s rail and the salt marsh harvest mouse, and development of a visitor center at the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Solano County: At the Benicia shoreline, funds would go to restoration of wetlands and beach habitats, protection of adjacent infrastructure, installation, and management of public trails and protection of wetlands and Bay from urban stormwater.

These restoration projects represent examples of the unprecedented opportunity for Bay Area residents to accelerate improvements all around the region, but the missing piece is funding. To   generate badly needed funding for large-scale Bay restoration, your YES vote is needed on Measure AA on June 7.