Taking a Stand for San Francisco Bay

My name is Ian McKernan and I am a 7th grader at Shorecliffs Middle School in Orange County. Although I live in Southern California, I have visited the Bay Area many times and am always impressed with how clean and good the Bay looks. It’s always fun for me to see how many people enjoy it too. Personally, I like to sail around Dana Point Harbor, so I always look for people sailing on the water.

After hearing about Sylvia McLaughlin, Kay Kerr, and Esther Gulick’s fight to save San Francisco Bay in the 1960s, it inspired me to build a website to share their story as my National History Day project. This year’s theme was “Taking a Stand in History.”

National History Day (NHD) is a year-long school program where students do research on historical topics that they choose and develop projects about them. The projects are then entered into contests at the local and state levels and the top projects from each state advance to the national contest in Washington D.C. at the end of the school year. More than half a million middle and high school students participate in NHD annually.

While researching the story of saving the Bay, I was most surprised to learn that San Francisco Bay was not protected by environmental laws in the 1960s like it is today. At that time, landowners, cities, and factories could build on the Bay and dump their toxic trash directly into the Bay. And they did just that! I was also surprised to learn that the laws that we have today resulted from the efforts of Save The Bay’s founders, not from the existing environmental groups or politicians at that time.

I was also impressed by how enthusiastic the people I interviewed for my project (Save The Bay’s Executive Director David Lewis, former Chief Engineer of the Bay Model William Angeloni, Sylvia McLaughlin’s daughter Jeanie Shaterian, and Senator McAteer’s son Dr. Terry McAteer) were when talking about an event that happened over 50 years ago. Their enthusiasm showed me how the women’s fight had a huge impact on the San Francisco Bay we enjoy today, and the importance of continuing their legacy of conservation into the future.

Click here to learn more about Save The Bay’s early history and view Ian’s website.

We are inspired by Ian. His passion for conservation shows that the youngest generation has the desire and drive to advocate for the Bay now, and far into the future.

You can inspire students like Ian by graciously giving to Save The Bay’s education programs. Our award-winning restoration education programs reach more than 2,000 kids each year. Your generous donation allows us to develop bay nature lesson plans for teachers, provide professional development for educators, organize school field trips to wetland restoration sites, and so much more. We can’t wait to teach a whole new group of students this year!

Thank you for supporting our work and for providing the resources needed to inspire the next generation of Bay stewards.


David Lewis

Executive Director, Save The Bay

Connecting with Environmental Education

Our restoration education programs teach students to observe connections in the natural world.

As an environmental educator with Save The Bay, I strive to provide a fun filled day at one of the bay’s salt marshes while enriching science curriculum in the classroom. By showing students these intricate and diverse ecosystems, we encourage students to make their own connections between observations they make in the field and lessons they learn in the classroom.

Earlier this summer I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the CalAlive! professional development course in Fish Camp, California. This two weekend course was a unique and educational experience in which I learned ways to incorporate Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) into Save The Bay’s environmental education programs. It turns out that our outdoor educational programs are an excellent accompaniment to these new standards and can be a tool for teachers to bridge the gap between the classroom activities and the real world.

Incorporating New Standards for Science

Over two weekend sessions, we learned in detail about how the Next Generation Science Standards can be implemented to create an educational experience that is meaningful and lasting. I was amazed at how much this education style differs from my own growing up. The basics were the same, but the way teachers are facilitating the learning process is very different.  Gone are the days in which students were lectured to and expected to retain knowledge. Instead, through various activities and teaching styles, students are encouraged to ask questions, gather information, and connect the concepts together.

I have taken home many ideas and activities that will be a great asset to our habitat restoration team.  By implementing the Question Formulation Technique, I believe we will provide an educational experience that connects classroom concepts to real world scientific principles. I am proud to realize that Save The Bay’s educational programs are already aligned with the core concepts of the NGSS. The outdoor learning space is a perfect place to make observations, formulate ideas and questions, and observe connections in the natural world, and I am excited to implement my experience in the coming school year!

Learn more about Save The Bay’s education programs.


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.

Education Programs Grow Bay Stewards

8th grader Anya's class connected with the Bay through Save The Bay's Restoration Education Program.
8th grader Anya’s class connected with the Bay through Save The Bay’s Restoration Education Program. Watch her story.

Budding Bay Saver Anya Tucker is busy. From writing her first science fiction novel to persuasively advocating for a healthy environment, she is an impressive example of what’s possible when you invest in the next generation of creative problem solvers, scientists, and stewards.

An 8th grader from Oakland’s Julia Morgan School for Girls, Anya’s class spent a day doing tidal marsh restoration work and studying the science of the San Francisco Bay with us in April.

Her teacher Jess Dang connected with Save The Bay when she was looking for real-world science opportunities for the school’s Go Girl! Leadership program. “Quality, hands-on science is so important for youth, but girls especially. Even though the achievement gap is being closed in schools, women still lag behind men in engineering, math and science careers,” says Dang.

When Kay Kerr, Sylvia McLaughlin, and Esther Gulick founded Save The Bay in 1961, women made up just 7.3 percent of the United States’ Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) PhDs.

We’ve come a long way since then. Today, 41 percent of STEM PhDs are women. It’s a heartening statistic, but a PhD does not translate into a life in science and community leadership. When it comes to the actual STEM workforce, only 27 percent are women.

Empowering women in science means showing girls they belong in the field. For Ms. Dang, working with Save The Bay is a no-brainer. “The girls can really see the change they are making in the Bay.”

Anya has always hated cigarettes and smoking, but her field program with Save The Bay gave her an environment-wide view of the problem. “I never realized how many of those cigarette butts dropped on the ground actually end up in the Bay… We get one planet to live on and it’s our choice how we treat it.”

At Save The Bay, we are grateful for the strong, passionate scientists on our team who foster an educational experience that emphasizes creativity, inquiry and getting your hands dirty to restore tidal marsh one seedling at a time. Every year, 2,000 youth join us on the shorelines and tidal marshes, and through our work we hope to inspire the next generation of Bay scientists and stewards.

Save The Bay is always looking for new ways to share the stories of our restoration programs, so we were excited to use Adobe Voice to transform Jess and Anya’s experience into the video above.

What #Stormageddon Means for the Bay

Stormwater pollution storm drains rain water drought
As much as recent rainstorms have been a boon for parched landscapes across California, there is a dark side to all the wet stuff – trash and other pollution that collects in gutters, and in many cases, ends up flowing directly to creeks, rivers, and the Bay. Photo by Patrick Band

Although last week’s storm wasn’t quite all it was hyped up to be, it was still an impressive showing from Mother Nature. Some of the worst flooding occurred in the North Bay town of Healdsburg, where the Russian River jumped from a bucolic 700 cubic feet per second to a raging 40,000 cubic feet per second. Nevertheless, the flooding – which inundated downtown businesses – wasn’t caused by the river jumping its banks (it didn’t), but rather by smaller creeks and detention ponds becoming inundated so quickly. With over 6 inches of rain falling within 12-14 hours, there simply wasn’t anywhere for the water to go.

With forecasts calling for a series of smaller storms in coming days, it’s worth recapping what all the wet stuff means for California and the Bay in particular.


You’ve probably heard of First Flush – just as early season storms make roads treacherous because of all the accumulated oil and grime, big rains wash all of the plastic wrappers, cigarette butts, and random trash that accumulate in our urban environment and carry them in to the storm water system. With an estimated 3 billion cigarette butts littered around the Bay each year, that’s a whole lot of toxic trash!

We’ll be keeping an eye out during this weekend’s King Tides to see what washes up on the shores, and share out any interesting finds.

Water Supply

Despite the estimated 10 trillion gallons of water that fell across the state last week, most major reservoirs are barely above the half-way mark for the year. The state’s three largest reservoirs – Shasta, Oroville, and Trinity – are all below 55% of average storage for the year, and at roughly 30% of total capacity.

Jeffrey Mount, a senior fellow with the Public Policy Institute of California and well-regarded expert on climate and water issues put it well when speaking with KQED earlier in the week:

“Thursday it’ll rain, and people will say, ‘Oh, I’m very excited,’ and Saturday it’ll rain, and ‘Oh, drought’s over.’ Not even close. It’s going to take a lot of rain to break this drought.”


It goes by all sorts of names – mud, silt, sand, gunk, soil, dirt. It’s both a bane to water quality that can ultimately lead to massive die-offs of species, and a necessary element to systems like the Bay where sediment accumulates along the shoreline and helps wetlands keep up with rising tides.

While the short-term increase in sediment may not make news in the Bay Area, statewide, there are some surprising results. Just an hour or so away in the Bay Delta, sediment loads are forcing pumping reductions of water to Central Valley farmers and Southern California. Turns out, the endangered Delta Smelt really enjoy muddy water, because it provides them a level of protection against predators. So paradoxically, Delta pump operators are cutting back at the exact time when flows are higher than they’ve been for years.

That spells good news for the Delta Smelt, and for the Bay.