Top 5 Posts of 2013

As the blog editor for Save The Bay, I am continually interested in learning which stories most excite readers and inspire them to share with their friends. In 2013, readers loved positive stories about wildlife recovery, anything about Oakland (yay Oakland!), inspiring stories about Bay recovery, fascinating Bay history tales, and even stories about innovative policy solutions to pollution problems. Though these topics are incredibly varied,  one consistent theme runs through all of them:  a sense that a healthier Bay and healthier environment is always possible. As the New Year begins with this incredible sense of hope, and we look back on last year’s accomplishments and forward to next year’s, I’m pleased to share our most popular blog posts from 2013:

Sailing on SF Bay
Photo by Rick Lewis.

River Otter Sighting a Sign of Lake Merritt’s Recovery
“Keep Oakland Fresh” bumper stickers. “Great Lakes” T-shirts, comparing the outlines of Mono Lake, Lake Tahoe and Lake Merritt. Vintage color postcards showing flocks of birds wading in clear blue waters and flying above beautiful green hills. Nearly every candidate who runs for City Council in Oakland has a picture of themselves with Lake Merritt as the backdrop. There’s a reason why: Oaklanders love Lake Merritt.

We received a surprising indication that recent restoration work is making a difference. For the first time in living memory, a river otter was spotted on a dock along the lake’s shoreline. Read more…

After 143 years, Oakland’s Lake Merritt Reunites with the Bay
A gem at the heart of Oakland, Lake Merritt has been many things – the nation’s first wildlife refuge, beloved waterway, sewage-filled cesspool, and even the rumored home to a lake monster. There’s one thing that Lake Merritt has never been, however – and that’s a lake.

What we now call Lake Merritt has for most of the past ten thousand years been a tidal lagoon where the waters of several East Bay creeks met the brackish tides of the Bay. Read more…

Are Butts the New Bottles? NY Proposes Cigarette Butt Redemption Program
New York Assemblymember Michael DenDekker is not one to wait around for easy answers. As a retired NYC Sanitation Worker, DenDekker knows firsthand the scale of America’s tobacco litter problem. And, as a politician, he knows firsthand the impact this litter has on our economy. His solution? Create a redemption program (similar to the current CRV for bottles and cans) to incentivize smokers to properly dispose of their butts. Read more…

Explore the Newly-Opened Trail at Bair Island
Save The Bay was thrilled to join the Redwood City community in a celebration of an important milestone in the nearly-completed restoration of Bair Island. The Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge celebrated the opening of a new pedestrian bridge, and the first segment of trails accessible to the public since restoration work began in 2007. Read more…

Trash Dumps and the Hidden History of the Bay Shoreline
After the Gold Rush, a full one-third of the San Francisco Bay was diked off or filled in for development. Over three dozen trash dumps (both official and unofficial) lined the Bay shoreline. The public had access to less than six miles of shoreline, but far from being the recreational haven that the Bay Trail is today, the old shoreline greeted visitors with views of a struggling Bay choked with raw sewage and industrial pollution. Read more and view the interactive map…

Weekly Roundup: December 20, 2013

Check out this week’s Weekly Roundup for breaking news affecting San Francisco Bay

Sacramento Bee 12/14/13
SF Bay River Otter Sightings Suggest Comeback
Earlier this year, a river otter named Sutro Sam became the first of the whiskered critters to be seen in San Francisco for decades.
The juvenile male otter drew crowds to a brackish pool on a seaside cliff where he swam and ate for a few days, thrilling onlookers before disappearing quietly.
In all, researchers have received 600 reported sightings throughout the San Francisco Bay region over the past two years in the first population study of the weasel-like creatures ever done here. Most of the sightings have been confirmed through photos and video taken by bystanders in an area where the species was nearly wiped out after decades of of hunting, development and pollution.
Read more>>


Oakland Local 12/12/13
The New Bay Bridge Bike Path: Here’s where to get on in Oaktown and Emeryville
Since its grand opening two weeks ago, the Alexander Zuckermann Bike Path has both enthralled and eluded many visitors. The photos and videos are stunning, but how exactly does one get there? I set out from Lake Merritt on my bike to find out.
Read more>>

SF Gate 12/13/13
Purchase of Skagg’s Island Farm to Restore SF Bay Marshland
By any measure, it’s a good thing when 1,092 acres along San Francisco Bay become permanently protected open space.
This is even better: Friday’s sale of an oat farm near Highway 37 to the Sonoma Land Trust will allow 4,400 acres of dry land to be restored to a functioning marsh, just like it was before humans put up dikes and walled out San Francisco Bay.
Read more>>

SF Gate 12/15/13
Bird Count in Oakland Shows Surprisingly Low Tally 
The annual Audubon bird count in Oakland was a breeze this year: There were hardly any birds to count.
“Normally we’d see thousands of scaup and bufflehead and canvasback. This year it’s staggering – we’ve hardly seen any,” said Ruth Tobey, one of more than 200 volunteers who scoured the East Bay on Sunday with binoculars and clipboards, counting birds.
Read more>>

CBS Bay Area 12/12/13
Appeals Court Upholds San Francisco’s Plastic Bag Ban
A state appeals court has upheld a San Francisco law banning the use of non-compostable plastic bags at checkout stands in retail stores and grocery markets.
The 2012 law, an expansion of an earlier measure, prohibits most single-use plastic checkout bags and requires stores to charge 10 cents for paper or compostable plastic bags.
The ordinance was upheld Tuesday by a three-judge panel of the state Court of Appeal in San Francisco. The court ruled on a challenge by the Los-Angeles-based Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, a manufacturers’ association that has been battling plastic bag laws around the state.
Read more>>

Bay Nature 12/13/13
Capturing King Tides Through Citizen Science
You’re driving through Mill Valley along Highway 102, the sky is blue, the drought persists, and it’s still not raining—yet, the water laps at your tires and the asphalt road resembles a shallow creek. It’s the winter king tides in action and that, organizers at the California King Tides Initiative say, is what the future looks like.
King tides are extreme, high tide events that occur biannually, normally around the summer and winter solstices, when the gravitational pull of the sun and moon are in alignment. While the tides are not affected by climate change, they act as an indicator of the way in which sea level rise will affect coastal communities. Hayley Zamel, an organizing partner for the California King Tides Initiative, said winter king tides, particularly when paired with a storm—as was the case in Pacifica last year—offer a realistic look into the climate-changed future.
Read more>>

SF Gate 12/20/13
NYC Expands Smoking Ban to Include E-Cigarettes
Years after being exiled to New York City’s sidewalks by a ban on smoking in indoor public places, some smokers relished electronic cigarettes as a way to come in from the cold. Now they’re down to their last few puffs after the City Council voted 43-8 Thursday to expand the ban to include the devices. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is expected to sign the measure before leaving office in a few days. The ban would take effect in four months.
Read more>>

A river otter on Lake Merritt?

river otter
If you spot a river otter, leave it alone and contact the River Otter Ecology Project. Photo by Jaymi Heimbuch. Click this image for more photos.

A couple weeks ago, something pretty unusual was spotted in downtown Oakland. A North American river otter stopped by the Lake Merritt boathouse, posed for a photo, and caused a bit of a stir.

Naturally, the photo found its way onto Facebook and Twitter, and Save The Bay passed it along with a sense of celebration: Huzzah for spunky and adorable Bay critters! Congrats to Oakland for reconnecting the lake to the Bay! Thanks to everyone who works to make the Bay healthy for humans and wildlife!

But then, at the request of one of our environmental partners, we agreed to delete our post from Facebook. Wildlife groups were justifiably concerned about the “Sutro Sam effect”—you know, the phenomenon where a bunch of bozos think it’s okay to approach a wild animal, offer it food, throw stuff to provoke a reaction, and unleash their dogs for uninvited play dates.

In retrospect, I’m not sure what we expected to accomplish by removing our Facebook post. If the otter (Let’s call her Merritt Mary) had decided to take up residence, there would have been no keeping the lid on it. We all know that soon enough there would be viral videos, a Merritt Mary Twitter account, and in all likelihood a parade of people getting all up in Merritt Mary’s face.

The fact is, many of us are generally pretty clueless when it comes to animals in the wild. We tend to imagine them as pets or pests, when we think of them at all. And when it comes to San Francisco Bay, we often forget that beyond the postcard-perfect view, it is first and foremost a habitat for hundreds of amazing species. Otters, sea lions, seals, porpoises, skates, sharks, jellyfish, octopuses, herring, pipefish, rockfish and many others make their home in the Bay. We don’t often see them, so it can be easy to forget that our own bad behaviors affect them every day—from the plastic bags we let escape into the environment to littered toxic cigarette butts we give so little thought to.

Personally, I’m still hoping that Merritt Mary will make her way back to the boathouse and take up residence somewhere just out of onlookers’ reach, like the sly sea lions famously have done over at San Francisco’s Pier 39. We could all use a reminder of the wildlife in our midst, if only to remind us not to be such bozos.

If you spot a river otter in the Bay Area, report your sighting to the River Otter Ecology Project

Weekly Roundup | October 4, 2013

KQED 9/27/13
Can Sea Otters Make a Comeback in the San Francisco Bay?
Imagine sea otters drifting and diving in San Francisco Bay and swimming in the abundant pickleweed of the salt marshes surrounding its waters. Up until the early-1800s, that would have been a common sight. They’ve been long gone in our area, since the 1840s when fur hunters trapped the last of the surviving bay population around Corte Madera Creek. A remnant population, discovered near Big Sur in 1938, has been slowly expanding from an estimated 50 otters. Southern sea otter populations span from east of northern Santa Barbara to around Pigeon Point, and includes a small population on San Nicolas — the westernmost of the Channel Islands.
Read more>


San Francisco Chronicle 9/29/13
Whale Spotter App to Help Curb Strikes By Ships
Smartphones, which have already revolutionized world communications, are now on track to save the whales.
Marine biologists are testing a new smartphone application this week that can pinpoint the location of whales around the Farallon Islands and help ships steaming in and out of San Francisco Bay avoid hitting them.
The app, called Whale Spotter, could be used by anyone with an iPhone who goes out to sea in a ship or boat. It would map pods or individual cetaceans and plot them on a digital map. An app for the Android is being developed.
Read more>>

San Francisco Chronicle 10/2/13
Marin County’s Plastic Bag Ban Upheld by Court
Plastic bag manufacturers lost another challenge to local ban-the-bag measures Wednesday when the state Supreme Court allowed Marin County to continue enforcing its restrictions at checkout counters in unincorporated areas.
The justices unanimously denied review of an appellate ruling upholding the Marin ordinance, which since January 2012 has prohibited single-use plastic bags and required a 5-cent fee for a paper bag. Similar measures have been adopted by about 50 cities and counties in California, including San Francisco and Alameda County.
Read more>>

Treehugger 10/3/13
River Otters Making a Comeback in California’s Bay Area (photos)
Last year and earlier in January we reported on a river otter in San Franciscothat made headlines. Sutro Sam was the first otter spotted in the city in perhaps more than 50 years. But this temporary resident of the Sutro Baths ruins is just one member of the recovering river otter populations in the bay area.
See more>>

Marinscope 10/2/13
No ‘butts’ about it
The 8-foot-tall, decorative “Cigarette Eater Meter” in the downtown San Rafael City Plaza has reached full capacity.
Situated on Fourth Street for nearly four months, the receptacle was installed as part of a campaign championed by San Rafael Clean, which sought to eradicate littered cigarette butts. The goal – to collect 100,000 discarded cigarettes – was achieved last week.
Read more>>

San Francisco Chronicle 10/3/13
Go out and Play
The San Francisco Bay Area is one of the greatest regions for outdoor recreation in America. No matter what you love, the reality is this: many paths, one truth.
What sets you free? Hike, bike, fish, boat, wildlife watch or explore. It’s all here, often with world-class views in the process.
Read more>>

Weekly Roundup | September 20, 2013

Check out this week’s Weekly Roundup for breaking news affecting San Francisco Bay.

The San Francisco Chronicle 9/20/13
Coastal Cleanup Day Targets Cigarette Butts
Plastic bags, old tires, Styrofoam to-go containers – the once-ubiquitous staples of shoreline trash are rapidly diminishing, thanks to recycling and legislative bans. Now it’s cigarette butts’ turn. Saturday is Coastal Cleanup Day and environmental groups this year are pushing for a fee on cigarettes that would offset the costs of cleaning up the yellowed, plastic filters smokers leave behind.
Read more>>


Seattle Times 9/11/13
The Pacific’s Perilous Turn
She kicked through blue water until she spotted a ceramic tile attached to the bottom of a reef.
A year earlier, the Australian ecologist had placed this small square near a fissure in the sea floor where gas bubbles up from the earth. She hoped the next generation of baby corals would settle on it and take root.
Fabricius yanked a knife from her ankle holster, unscrewed the plate and pulled it close. Even underwater the problem was clear. Tiles from healthy reefs nearby were covered with budding coral colonies in starbursts of red, yellow, pink and blue. This plate was coated with a filthy film of algae and fringed with hairy sprigs of seaweed.
Read more>>

Mercury News 9/16/13
Bad year in Sacramento for environmental measures
Environmental groups were excited last week when a key bill they worked on all year came up for a final vote in Sacramento.
The measure would have allowed the California Coastal Commission to fine people who illegally block public access to beaches, destroy wetlands or build homes without permits — rather than having to take them to court. But at the last minute, eight Democrats, including three from Bay Area coastal districts, reversed their earlier votes and killed the bill at the urging of developers and farm interests.
“We were surprised,” said Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California. “This a no-brainer. It was so consistent with what the public wants.” The failure highlights a recent trend: Environmentally friendly legislation has become an endangered species in Sacramento.
Read more>>

Live Science 9/12/13
Sea Otter Populations Growing in California
The California sea otter population, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, has grown since last year, according to a recent population census published by the U.S. Geological Survey.
The otter population is reported annually as a three-year-running average, and rose to 2,941 this year, up from last year’s average of 2,792. The animal still retains its threatened species status, and will continue to do so until it reaches an average of 3,090 individuals for three consecutive years, according to a USGS statement.
Read more>>