Captain Maggie McDonogh

Captain Maggie

Award winning U.S.C.G. Certified Captain Maggie McDonogh is the President, CEO and fourth generation Captain of the Angel Island – Tiburon Ferry Company, now celebrating over 55 years serving the community on San Francisco Bay.

Save The Bay last spoke with you about the return of the porpoises to the Bay. Do you still see porpoises on your daily trips across the Bay?

Yes we do. In fact I’ve been seeing quite a few calves, which is really quite wonderful.

You told me you saw a Mola Mola out in front of your boat in Tiburon the other day. How often do you see marine life during your daily trips across the Bay?

We see some sort of wildlife every day on every trip. Right now, we see a lot of jellyfish, baitfish, seals, harbor seals, sea lions, harbor porpoises, an occasional whale and many different kinds of sea birds. It’s fascinating when you see species that aren’t normally seen in the Bay.

The Angel Island-Tiburon Ferry Company is the last remaining family owned and operated ferry service in California. What was it like growing up out on the Bay?

It was wonderful. We saw all sorts of beautiful things regularly.  My father, who grew up on the Bay himself, taught me how to handle all sorts of different situations and we met many fascinating people. The Bay is a beautiful place to be. I was very lucky to grow up with it being a central focus of our family’s lives.

What is it like to continue your family’s work and to see your children becoming involved as well?

Well that’s wonderful too.  Not only do we have the privilege of operating the boats but we get to make people happy for a living. My dad taught us that not all returns on an investment are monetary. It’s a very enriching and a wonderful experience to continue doing ferry boats and to watch over people. To share what we get to do every single day with people who don’t get to do this every day, that’s a huge honor.

It’s amazing to watch our son Sam who is 20 getting his captain’s license. Teaching him to run the ferry boat is an experience. When he receives his documentation he will be the 5th generation of our family in Tiburon to be a captain. His grandfather would be very proud. Our daughter Becky is the next in line after Sam and our youngest Ben is all about learning how to tie the lines.

What I didn’t understand for a long time is that the highest form of compliment is imitation. When your children are imitating what you do and following you, that’s a huge compliment. They don’t need to do it. They certainly are welcome to explore other avenues, but it’s very nice to see them showing interest in what we do.

From hearing stories from your family and from your own experiences have you noticed any changes in terms of how people interact with the San Francisco Bay and how people talk and think about the Bay?

I see a lot more people interested in the Bay and its wellbeing. There’s a lot of discussion and concern about the funneling of the water from the Delta south because that’s going to have a tremendous impact on the health of the Bay. Then you get the people who don’t know anything about the Bay, so there is an opportunity to educate them. There are all of these different avenues for people who aren’t involved to see more and for people who don’t really understand to be educated.  I hope that people who ride the boat and experience the Bay’s beauty will educate themselves and become involved since the Bay is an essential element in our greater community.

During the 2008 wildfire, you brought fire fighters to Angel Island via ferry, ensuring that the island and its historical buildings were protected. Can you tell me more about that experience and what role the AITF has played in saving the Bay?

That was a period where we had four or five days of North Easterly wind and we were called by the Head Ranger who said that there was a small fire but we didn’t need to worry.  We came to the docks and at that point my phone was ringing like crazy and everyone was saying, “Hey Maggie your island is on fire.”

So William and I ran the boat with some other volunteers for hours, moving firefighters back and forth because you have to move quickly in situations like this. You know there’s concern for all the historic buildings and then there’s the concern about all of the people on the island. It was really intense and I have a lot of respect for the firefighting crews that were out there because they were very effective in dealing with a potentially horrific situation.

We were also involved with the 2007 oil spill that recently was on the Bay. We discussed with the cleanup crews the best placement of the oil absorbent pads because we are familiar with the currents around Angel Island and in the cove better than just about anyone else. We came and helped them move equipment back and forth to the island. We provided service off of our dock in Tiburon for them to use as a staging platform.

When you are not ferrying passengers across the Bay, what are some of your favorite things to do on the Bay?

We do lots of things on the Bay. I like to just take the boat out and relax. We go swimming, paddle boarding and kayaking. Since the Bay is never the same from hour to hour or day to day there is always something to see or do.

Learn more about Captain Maggie

A pillar in the San Francisco Bay Area community and beyond, Captain Maggie McDonogh is the recipient of many honors and awards including the Tiburon Peninsula Business Citizen of the Year Award, North Bay Business Journal Women in Business Award, and the American Red Cross Lifesaving Hero Organization Award, to name a few.

In addition to fun day-trips to Angel Island State Park year-round via Tiburon, California, the public is invited to join “Captain Maggie” and her expert crew on-board for seasonal Sunset Cruises, specialty cruises and private charters on San Francisco Bay.

For more information and to plan your next getaway on San Francisco Bay please visit:

The Value of Native Plants

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Native plants evolved to live with the local climate, soil types, and wildlife and are crucial to establishing and maintaining a healthy San Francisco Bay. Save The Bay’s on-the-ground wetland restoration projects aim to re-establish native plants in the transition zone, creating important buffer areas adjacent to tidal marshes.

There are many benefits to native plants. For instance, native plants generally require less water than non-native plants and are often drought tolerant. Native plants attract and sustain native wildlife and help maintain the landscape by preventing erosion and enriching the soil.

The Bay Area is home to around 400 native plant species and over 70 non-native, invasive species. Invasive plants are both non-native and able to grow on many sites, spreading quickly and disrupting plant communities. Invasives degrade wildlife habitat and disrupt ecosystem functions. They are the second greatest threat to endangered species, after habitat destruction.

Our restoration staff works to remove invasive species from the Bay’s marshes and wetlands, planting native plants along these sites. Meet some of the native plants that are planted at our restoration sites along the Bay.

California Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) is the most important native source of honey in California. Our local bees love this plant, which is native to the Bay Area and can be found above the high tide line. It is often found around the Bay growing on rocky, dry slopes in a variety of plant communities. This species is extremely drought tolerant. CA buckwheat can grow to be a relatively large shrub, providing cover for wildlife and crowding out encroaching invasive species.

Fleshy Jaumea (Jaumea carnosa) can be found in the low zone of the marsh right by the Bay. These native plants form thick mats along the shoreline, which helps hold soil together and prevent erosion. Fleshy jaumea is in the Sunflower family, which is evident when you examine the flowers closely. Jaumea is a halophyte, meaning that it is a plant that is very salt tolerant and is commonly found in areas of high salinity.

Blue Eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium bellum) blooms from March to July and can be found in grassland, foothill woodland, and sage scrub around the Bay Area. Song sparrows, house finches and other songbirds eat the seeds of this native plant. It is relatively common but can be hard to identify when not in bloom. It is actually not a grass, but is in the same family as Iris.

Sticky Monkey Flower (Mimulus aurantiacus) typically bloom from mid-spring into mid-summer and can be found above the high tide line. Hummingbirds and moths love the sweet nectar that these tube-like flowers hold. Mimulus is latin for comic or mime, perhaps named for the funny face of the flower. Sticky monkey flower are found throughout California, southern Oregon, and Baja California in a variety of plant communities.

California Aster (Symphyotrichum chilense) is an important plant for the larvae of the Field Crescent and Northern Checkerspot butterflies. Asters are late bloomers, blooming as late as November. This late flowering period is important for insects who still need nectar late in the season. California aster is native to California and is found only slightly outside of California’s borders. It is rhizomatous, meaning that it can propagate itself through underground stems and is often found in large clumps or colonies. CA aster is a perennial plant. It grows and blooms during spring and summer and dies back every autumn and winter, returning again in the springtime.

Learn more about the native plants that help restore our Bay shoreline. Sign up to volunteer.

Restoration at Oro Loma

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On July 14, I got the chance to join Save The Bay’s restoration team for fieldwork at the Oro Loma Demonstration Project nursery site. After spending 6 weeks working with the communications team, I was very excited to get away from my desk for a field day with fellow office volunteers.

I knew that we would be working on site at the Oro Loma Sanitary District to propagate restoration plantings, but I did not realize that we would be working within the wastewater treatment plant itself. Large gray buildings lined the site and construction materials surrounded the space where we our plants grow. In the midst of water tanks and service vehicles laid 15 nursery beds filled with native seedlings.

Digging in

Our Nursery Manager, Jessie, greeted us upon arrival and introduced us to the various native plants currently growing in these beds, including field sedge, Santa Barbara sedge, Baltic rush and willow herb. We were each given a safety vest, a shovel and a set of gloves. Accompanied by staff and fellow office volunteers, we worked to transfer plants from seedling trays into the nursery beds, remove weeds and collect seeds. Together we planted California loosestrife, mulefat, California aster, western goldenrod, creeping wildrye, and California mugwort.

Once I got into a groove digging holes and planting, I quickly forgot about our industrial surroundings. Sitting in the dirt and working with the soil, I felt grounded in the work that I was doing. I loved the fragrant smells of the California mugwort  and the company of my fellow office volunteers and staff.

Over the course of the day, I could see our work progressing quickly, as more and more green sprouts began to cover the surface of the plant beds. We all worked side by side, chatting about seed propagation, the excitement of our upcoming all staff outing, and dreams of swimming in a cool pool after a hard day of work.

A unique project

I learned from restoration staff that Oro Loma is a demonstration project  to research a new model of shoreline restoration. If it proves successful, lessons learned from this project could be implemented at other sites around the Bay. More than 70,000 native seedlings will be propagated at the site by our restoration staff, which got me thinking about how many seedlings we must have collectively planted that day. When I followed up with Jessie she estimated that we installed about 11,389 young plants in addition to the work we did weeding and collecting seeds.

Reflecting on the day, I feel very lucky to have experienced working at Oro Loma early on in the project. Most of our office staff haven’t gotten the chance to visit Oro Loma yet, so it was pretty cool to see it and familiarize myself with the innovative work that Save the Bay’s restoration staff and its partners are doing at the site.

South Bay Salt Pond Photography

Using a kite to fly a radio-controlled camera to great heights, photographer Cris Benton brings the intricate details of the South Bay’s salt ponds into focus. Cris’s aerial photographs have aided in the restoration efforts of the salt ponds and have been utilized by our habitat restoration team.

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Can you describe your process for kite aerial photography?

The idea is to take photographs from somewhere between head height and 400 ft. above the ground. To lift the camera I use single line kites selected for stability, often taking a quiver of six to eight kites when I head out to photograph.  After watching the wind, I select a kite that matches the breeze. After launching the kite I fly it up to steady air.

After the selected kite reaches steady air I fly it for about 10 minutes to establish that the wind is reliable and the kite is performing well.  And then, a hundred feet or more below the kite, I attach a little string and pulley suspension called a Picavet. Below the Picavet cross you attach the camera. Controlled by a handheld radio transmitter, the airborne cradle can point the camera in any compass direction, tilt it from straight down to the horizon, and with the flip of a switch change from portrait to landscape format.

Once the equipment is rigged to the kite line you just let out more line, the kite flies higher and pulls the camera cradle up after it. In the South Bay I have hiked five miles along the levees with the camera aloft taking photographs as I go. I frame each photograph by watching the camera, imagining what it would “see” and using the radio to pan and tilt. After the shot is composed, I wait for camera to be still and then press the shutter button to make the exposure. It only takes a few seconds per image and it’s great fun.

How has your work progressed in kite aerial photography (KAP)?

My first forays into KAP sprang from the confluence of longstanding interests in photography and radio-controlled sailplanes. In 1995, after playing with mounting a camera on one of my planes I made a shift to kites, which tend to be stable, self-tending platforms. Since switching to kites I have progressed through three photographic stages.

The first stage, lasting several years, involved sorting out how to fly kites, mount the camera, compose the photographs, and keep my lofted gear from crashing. During my middle period, again lasting several years, I traveled broadly with my KAP gear in a quest for aerial images compositionally worthy of display. This was a fine period of honing technique and skill that yielded satisfying work, the placement of images in publications, coverage in the press, and a few exhibits.

I am now well settled into my third period, the use of kite aerial photography in sustained studies of specific landscapes. The best example is my project examining the South Bay salt pond landscape. I came across the salt ponds while taking a series of hikes with microbiologist Dr. Wayne Lanier during my sabbatical at the Exploratorium.  On these hikes Wayne would photograph through his field microscope while I took overhead views of the sampled environment.

Not knowing much about the South Bay I was struck by the otherworldly colors and textures present in what was once marshland. This was intriguing territory to photograph. After learning more about the current day South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project, I developed a proposal to continue photographing the South Bay landscape in service of the restoration efforts. The Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge and the California Department of Fish & Wildlife issued Special Use Permits providing permissions conditioned on seasonal restrictions to protect wildlife. This project, still underway, has blossomed into a major undertaking.

What is the nature of this South Bay project and what has it accomplished?

I started by photographing the colors and textures associated with the various salinities of salt ponds in the South Bay. Curiously, you can see little of a pond’s color or bottom detail while hiking on the ground due to sky reflection from the pond’s surface.  Happily, an aerial vantage point reduces surface reflection to allow a view of pond colors and bottom detail. This advantage, afforded to airline passengers landing at SFO, is also realized by a kite-lofted camera.

I was having a great time bagging new colors, as though trophy animals, when I realized that many of my aerial images contained vestigial remnants of the marsh channels that once served square miles of South Bay marsh. Looking more closely I also found traces of old boat landings, 19th century salt works, and curious patterns left by over a century of dredging and duck hunting.

What began as a photographic romp through a visually compelling landscape slowly shifted toward documenting the landscape’s history and deciphering traces of it evident in my aerial photographs. My aerial images often presented puzzling artifacts. These fueled visits to libraries, map rooms, and local experts. Then it was back to the field for more photographs. After photographing for several years, I came to appreciate that the landscape was still in transition, and rapid transition at that, as the salt pond restoration project gained stride. This realization has lent a sense of urgency to the project.

Over the last ten years I have made about 250 trips to photograph the South Bay. The South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project has used my images for outreach and in support of science projects guiding the restoration. For instance, my low-level aerial images of Drawbridge were used to “ground truth” the locations of invasive vegetation as predicted by the analysis of satellite data. My photographs of the project have also been used by over three-dozen non-profit agencies, including Save The Bay. I have mounted several exhibits of the South Bay work including a permanent display of sixty images at the Exploratorium and large panoramas in the Oakland Museum’s 2014 exhibit Above & Below: Stories from Our Changing Bay.

Cris Benton is a retired professor of architecture and former department chair at the University of California, Berkeley. He uses kite aerial photography as a technique for documenting several Northern California landscapes.

June 2015 Blog Roundup

Here are the five most popular posts from our blog in June. Read more about microbeads, the potential for future flooding and three stories about how people interact with the Bay.

Good Riddance to Microbreads

Cyril Manning, Communications Director


470 million plastic microbeads are released into San Francisco Bay every day, posing health hazards to the aquatic environment. The California Assembly is taking action to ban microbeads in personal care products sold in California. Read More




From Drought to Downpour

Nissa Kreidler, Restoration Operations Specialist

An artist’s rendition of California’s flooded State Capitol circa 1862

A Great Flood hit the Bay Area in 1861, leaving most of the low lying areas around the Bay covered in water. Scientists project that a flood like this could happen again. Is the Bay prepared for the next big storm? Read More






Paddle to the Sea

Coauthored by Luigi Ryan, Monica Greene, and Aly Cheney, Guest Bloggers

The Tuolumne River Trust’s kayaked down through the Tuolumne watershed, from Yosemite, into the Central Valley, down through the Delta, across the Bay, and out to the sea at the Golden Gate Bridge. Learn about their journey paddling from the Sierras to the Sea. Read More




Coming Back to the Bay

Caity Varian, Communications Volunteer

View of the San Francisco Bay from Tiburon.Returning to the Bay Area after a long time away is an amazing experience, especially for Bay Natives. Communications Volunteer Caity Varian reflects on her experience returning to Bay during college breaks. Read More




Escaping Alcatraz | Bridget Quinn 

Bridget Quinn, Guest Blogger

Bridget and friends preparing for the iconic swim.

Escape from Alcatraz participant and avid Bay swimmer Bridget Quinn reflects on the experience of swimming in the Bay and the unique perspective it provides. “I’ve been swimming in the Bay for fifteen years and consider the proximity of such liquid majesty one of San Francisco’s greatest gifts.”  Read More