Roundup: Science of saving the Bay

Photo: Britta Heise
Photo: Britta Heise

Report: Baylands & Climate Change

How will climate change impact the Bay Area? In 2015, local scientists released an important update to a 1999 report on the Bay’s ecosystems and habitat. The report calls for accelerated restoration efforts across the Bay to prepare for dramatic climate fluctuation. Read more about this significant research from Save The Bay’s lead scientist Donna Ball.

King Tides


All Hail the King… Tides, That Is

King Tides are the highest tides of the year that occur around the Winter and Summer Solstices. These extreme high tides provide a glimpse of the typical tides of the future as sea levels rise. Fortunately, restoration of transition zones around the Bay shoreline can act as a natural barrier, soaking up and redirecting bay waters. Read more about what the King Tides tell us about the future of San Francisco Bay.


The Science of Wetlands & Wastewater

As a partner on a groundbreaking, experimental project called the Oro Loma Horizontal Levee, Save The Bay is creating new habitat that may model how our region can adapt to rising sea levels. Meanwhile, UC Berkeley researcher Aidan Cecchetti is measuring another aspect of the project: How this habitat can filter excess nutrients and other pollutants from treated wastewater. Read more about the research at Oro Loma.


All Hail The King… Tides, That Is

If you’ve been watching the news, you’ve probably heard some mention of King Tides in places like Sausalito, Mill Valley, San Francisco, and Alameda. A King Tide is no farcical aquatic ceremony, but it is one of the highest high tides of the year. A King Tide is a natural phenomenon that occurs near the Summer and Winter solstices, during the new and full moon phases, when the moon, sun, and Earth are aligned. This alignment causes the strongest biannual gravitational force on Earth’s oceans, resulting in these dramatic tidal fluctuations.

Figure 1. Earth’s tides and the contributing gravitational factors
Figure 1. Earth’s tides and the contributing gravitational factors.

King Tides help us to see today what will be the average daily high tides in 2050 and they show us now where flooding will occur as the sea level continues to rise as shown in the photos below. These photos were submitted to the California King Tides Project, which encourages people to take pictures of their communities to document flooding during King Tides.

Photos a-f. Photos submitted to the California King Tides Project of San Francisco Bay Area communities during a King Tide in Winter 2012/2013. (a) The Embarcadero in San Francisco (b) Sidewalk in Alameda (c) HWY 1 underpass in Sausalito (d) Byway in Mill Valley (e) Sharp Park in Pacifica, (f) Rockaway in Pacifica
Photos a-f. Photos submitted to the California King Tides Project of San Francisco Bay Area communities during a King Tide in Winter 2012/2013. (a) The Embarcadero in San Francisco (b) Sidewalk in Alameda (c) HWY 1 underpass in Sausalito (d) Byway in Mill Valley (e) Sharp Park in Pacifica, (f) Rockaway in Pacifica

Tide gauge measurements can tell us about past and present sea levels —  The sea level in San Francisco Bay has risen about 4 inches since the year 2000. Based on these measurements and more precise climate modeling, scientists can now predict with strong confidence that the Bay Area will see an additional 10 inches of sea level rise by 2050. Beyond 2050, scientists expect sea levels to rise much faster than the current rate, partly because of positive feedback loops associated with global ice melt. Even the most conservative estimates suggest sea levels will rise a minimum of 40 inches by 2100 and as much as 16 feet if the global ice continues to melt faster than previously estimated.

So, what does sea level rise mean for the Bay Area and the people who live here?

San Francisco Bay is one of the most urbanized estuaries in the world. The majority of our seven million Bay Area residents live and work within a half mile from the Bay. We’ve filled in over 80% of the wetlands that once ringed the Bay and built our communities right at the edge of a bay that is expanding faster every day. We can look to King Tide events to show us the areas of this urbanized coastline that will be at risk in the near future.

As I mentioned, King Tides already bring higher sea levels into our coastal communities and flood urban infrastructure, reaching highways and roads in several areas throughout our region, including San Francisco, Marin, Alameda, and San Mateo counties. What I find of particular interest in the images above are the clear skies, demonstrating that the streets are flooded from ocean tides, not rainfall. However, add rainfall and tidal action and these “interesting” images can become downright devastating. The water you see on the pavement and in the streets during the King Tides indicate where the sea level was at that moment in those areas and we can expect to see that sea level every day in 2050 or even earlier. Combining those extreme high tides with large storms could result in devastating impacts, as you can see in the last two images.

Transition zones and rising tides

The Bay has expanded and contracted several times throughout history, but early humans hadn’t established permanent structures at the edges so the wetlands and the people that relied on them were able to migrate inland. Ten thousand years ago, sea levels were rising so quickly that every generation of early humans living along the coast or Bay was probably forced to retreat inland. Wetlands historically transitioned from low tidal marsh to upland terrestrial habitat across areas that spanned a mile or more. Today, most of our existing wetlands are squeezed up against urban infrastructure with narrow or no transition zones so these wetlands have nowhere to migrate. Healthy wetlands act as a sponge, slowing down and soaking up large volumes of water, so healthy wetlands help to keep coastal communities safe by buffering the effects of severe storms and flooding. With narrow transition zones and no migration space, our urban coastal tidal wetlands will drown as the sea continues to rise and will no longer provide the services we need unless we plan ahead.

In 1999, over 100 scientists, managers, and urban planners published the Baylands Goals Report, which became the basis for wetland restoration in the Bay Area and identified the need to conserve and restore 100,000 acres of healthy wetland habitat to provide healthy wetland ecosystems in the Bay Area. In October 2015, more than 200 scientists, natural resource managers, and urban planners published an update to the Baylands Goals report to include recommendations based on climate change. The Baylands Goals Science update includes an entire chapter dedicated to identifying types of transition zones and defining their services while emphasizing the need to accelerate restoration of these important areas of transition. For more information on the science update to the Baylands Goals Report, check out our Habitat Restoration Director’s blog, Baylands and Climate Change and to learn more about the general benefits of transition zones, check out my blog, What is Life without Transition?.

The solutions to climate change challenges are complex, but rising to the top of the list of challenges is the issue of big funding needs. Save The Bay is excited to be working on an important measure to invest critical funding in restoration projects. We are working with the Bay Restoration Authority to place a $12 parcel tax on the ballot throughout the nine-county Bay Area which will produce about half a billion dollars for Bay restoration over the next 20 years.

Communities can help to prepare for sea level rise by becoming involved with and supporting tidal wetland conservation and restoration. So it goes – wide, healthy wetlands between the Bay and urban infrastructure help to keep coastal communities safe from sea level rise.

If you fancy taking pictures and want to help document areas at risk for flooding as sea level rise, use this map to plan your shoot times and locations to photograph the high water in your community this King Tide season and submit your photos to the California King Tides Project.

5 Reasons Why Our Bay Wetlands Are Important

Photo by: Judy Irving

Happy World Wetlands Day!

San Francisco Bay was dubbed a Wetland of International Importance in 2013 under an international conservation treaty called the Ramsar Convention.

Wetlands serve vital functions, but are also at risk of destruction. In fact, over 64% of the world’s wetlands have been destroyed since 1900. Fortunately, local activists around the world and here in the Bay Area have been working to protect and restore wetlands for future generations.

Often referred to as the “lungs of the Bay,” here are 5 reasons why our Bay wetlands are important.

1. Wetlands help purify and counterbalance the human effect on water quality.    

Wetlands trap polluted runoff before toxins can reach open Bay water. This natural filtering process actually purifies the waters of the Bay.

Photo by: Vivian Reed

2. Wetlands help curb global warming and protect communities from sea level rise.

Greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, released into the atmosphere are captured, stored, and filtered by our wetlands.

Traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge
Photo by: Vivian Reed

Healthy wetlands also act as sponges capable of soaking up large quantities of water from rain storms and high tides, including King Tides.

King Tides nearly flood this Interstate 880 frontage road by the Oakland Coliseum around 10:30 am.

King Tides nearly flood this Interstate 880 frontage road by the Oakland Coliseum. Photo by: Vivian Reed
Photo by: Vivian Reed

The tall pillars supporting the same frontage road by the Oakland Coliseum are revealed during low tide around 5:30 pm.

Tall pillars supporting the same frontage road by the Oakland Coliseum are revealed during low tide. Photo by: Vivian Reed
Photo by: Vivian Reed

3. Wetlands provide habitat for endangered species.

Healthy tidal marshes provide food and shelter from predators for a number of endangered and threatened species.

San Francisco Bay’s Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse is the tiniest endangered species.

The Ridgway’s Rail is one of the Bay’s endangered species that depends on healthy wetlands to survive.

California Clapper Rail
Photo by: Dan Sullivan.

They also offer migratory animals a place to rest and reproduce along the Pacific Flyway.

A pair of Canada Geese rest along the Bay shoreline during their migration across North America.

Photo by: Vivian Reed

4. Our wetlands are beautiful areas of open space around the highly urbanized Bay Area that provide residents with many recreational opportunities.  

Like this:

In the mid 2000s, Save The Bay’s Canoes In Sloughs (pronounced “slews”) program offered Bay Area students a unique way to learn about and have fun on the Bay.

Canoes in the Sloughs
Photo by: Judy Irving

Or this:

A bicyclist admires the Bay views as he pedals along the Bay Trail.

Bike rider on the Bay Trail
Photo by: Vivian Reed

Or even this:

A family of three enjoy an afternoon stroll at Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Photo by: Vivian Reed

5. The Bay’s wetlands support our local economy by providing jobs in shipping, tourism, fishing, recreation, and education. 

A large cargo ship travels underneath the Bay Bridge toward the Port of Oakland.

Photo by: Dan Sullivan

We all need a healthy SF Bay. 7 Million Bay Area resides, 400 native species, our economy, and quality of life depend on it . Wetlands are vital to the health of wildlife and humans everywhere.

Help us restore and protect our wetlands by signing up for our volunteering programs today!

Restoration volunteers plant native seedlings into the ground
Photo by: Vivian Reed











Great news! Thanks to a groundswell of support, Bay Area voters will now have a chance to vote for a Clean and Healthy Bay this June. This is the greatest opportunity in a generation to restore our Bay for people, wildlife, and our economy. Are you in?

Take Action Now

The Three Kings of January 19, 2015: The tide, the location, and one man’s legacy

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January 19, 2015 — A day that could only be described by Martin Luther King Junior himself, “everyone can be great, because anyone can serve…”

Perhaps it was the significance behind this observed holiday, the opportunity to restore the wetlands at Martin Luther King Junior Regional Shoreline, or the anticipation of the King Tides that excited and inspired Save The Bay staff, volunteers, and myself to give back to my community.

My role was to capture still images of the event. During the King Tides walking tour, the volunteers and I learned about the King Tides phenomenon and the vital role our wetlands play in mitigating the impacts of sea level rise.

Not to be confused with climate change, King Tides are the result of a strong gravitational pull exerted by the sun and moon. But, scientists say the high water levels you see in the photographs (above) are projected to become the daily average high tide in the year 2050. This is primarily due to a rise in sea level and destruction of our wetlands which act as a natural buffer. Healthy wetlands help protect coastal communities by soaking up and slowing down water from severe storms, which are expected to become more severe and occur more frequently as sea level rises.

Following the conclusion of the event, I returned to the same restoration site and snapped a few photographs to capture the extremes between high and low tide.

“Who drained the slough?!” I thought to myself.

Within the span of 6 hours the water level fell dramatically, exposing saturated mounds of mud and revealing plants that were once entirely submerged!

As I peered through my camera lens, staring at the muddy puddles in astonishment, the importance of wetland restoration and impact of volunteering became clear to me. Having seen the tide rise as high as the frontage road off of Interstate 880 near the Oakland Coliseum, I know that every acre of restored tidal marsh will help Bay Area communities brace for what is to come – extreme regional flooding over time.

From social to environmental movements, Dr. King taught us that it does not take much to be great. Simply put, a little help will make a lasting impact.

While covering this event is my small contribution to help improve our local region, there is nothing more powerful than seeing what we are capable of together as a community.

To view more photos from this restoration event visit our Facebook Page!



Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service Events Around the Bay

Bay Area environmental groups are linking the increasingly popular Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service to growing concern about rising sea levels and their impact on vulnerable communities. This year’s MLK holiday coincides with this winter’s highest daytime tide. These King Tides are increasingly being used to understand and plan for the rising seas expected to result from global warming. Many groups have planned events around the Bay, including hundreds of volunteers expected at Martin Luther King Jr. Shoreline in Oakland.

Outdoor Afro, Golden Gate Audubon Society, and East Bay Regional Park District
OAKLAND: Habitat restoration and celebration of Dr. King’s legacy.
At Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline, near the observation tower off of Swan Way, 9 a.m. to noon
Over 50 people will be rotating through activities that include planting native plants to restore wildlife habitat; cleaning up trash; and viewing and learning about local shorebirds. The habitat we are restoring is home to the endangered Ridgway’s (former Clapper) Rail.

Save the Bay and East Bay Regional Park District
OAKLAND: Habitat Restoration and King Tides walk
At: Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline, Damon Slough
9:00 am – 12:00 pm
About 75 people signed up to go on a walk with Save The Bay’s staff scientist, Hayley Zemel, who will take them along the shoreline and teach about King Tides. Afterwards, they will participate in wetland habitat restoration by planting native plants in Damon Slough and learn about the benefits of tidal marshes.

Acterra, Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, and City of Cupertino
CUPERTINO: Young Audubon Day of Service, 9 a.m. to 12 noon.
At McClellan Ranch Preserve, 22221 McClellan Rd., Cupertino.
About 65 people have signed up to work on creek and native meadow habitat restoration at the preserve.

Environmental Volunteers
PALO ALTO: King Tides Walk, 10:15 AM – 12:00 PM
At Environmental Volunteers EcoCenter, 2560 Embarcadero Rd., Palo Alto.
Please register in advance
Participants will be observing and recording the effects of a “king tide” and learning about its impact on shoreline and marshland ecology.

Friends of Five Creeks and Citizens for East Shore Parks
RICHMOND: King Tides Walk, 10 AM – noon
At S.E. entrance to Pt. Isabel Regional Shoreline, N. end of Rydin Rd.,
Shoreline walk from Point Isabel north will explore history including Native Americans and dynamite making, enjoy thriving restoration, see how rising sea levels threaten infrastructure and wildlife, and talk about possibilities for using wetlands to buffer some of the effects.

Friends of Sausal Creek
OAKLAND: King Tides Walk, Tue, Jan. 20, 10am – 12pm (NOTE: This is on Tuesday, not MLK Day.)
At Fruitvale Bridge Park, Oakland (Fruitvale and Alameda Ave., immediately S. of Fruitvale Bridge)
Local historian Dennis Evanosky leads a walking tour exploring the fascinating history of the waterway between Oakland and Alameda, where Sausal Creek now empties into the estuary via a culvert.

The Watershed Project and East Bay Regional Park District
RICHMOND: Shoreline cleanup, 9 a.m. to noon.
At Point Pinole Regional Shoreline, 5532 Giant Highway
Remove invasive plants and clean up trash.

Friends of the Richmond Greenway, The Watershed Project, Urban Tilth, Pogo Park, the City of Richmond, and others
RICHMOND: Planting gardens and Celebrating Dr. King, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
At Richmond Greenway,
 8th St and Ohio Street and 16th and Ohio St.
Plant trees and gardens along the Greenway, build a rain garden, clean up trash and celebrate Dr. King’s legacy with speakers and presentations.

Citizens for a Sustainable Point Molate and The Watershed Project
RICHMOND: Habitat Restoration, 9 a.m. to noon
Point Molate Beach Park, Richmond
Install native plants and observe King Tides.

Other events at the MLK Shoreline on Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2015:

Martin Luther King Jr. Rally
99 Pardee Drive, Oakland, 9am to noon
Speeches and rally

Boy Scouts of America and East Bay Regional Parks District
Martin Luther King Grove, 8:30am to noon
Restore grove, plant shrubs, rake leaves, pick up shoreline  litter and spread mulch

East Bay Regional Parks District, Waste Management Civicorp, and Kaiser Permanente
Oak Port Fields, East Creek Slough, and Damon Marsh Trail, 9am to noon
Pick up shoreline litter, remove invasive French broom.

UC Berkeley Freedom Center and East Bay Regional Parks District 
Tidewater Boating Center, 12pm to 3pm
Pick up shoreline litter.