Girls in Science Saving The Bay

“Now we’re walking out… across the marsh!”

This is not something you hear most teens shout on a typical weekday, but a group of take-charge girls from Belmont’s Notre Dame High School got the chance during one of Save The Bay’s DIRT programs. And they did more than announce their next steps: they filmed them!

A student named Gina from Notre Dame’s AP Biology class captured the whole trip on camera as part of a web series called: “Teens Do Science.” Gina caught the action as her classmates took measurements on soil characteristics and assessed plant biodiversity. She was eager to share what they were doing and why it was important, and I was energized by her excitement.

As Save The Bay’s Restoration Education Program Manager, I’m thrilled that our DIRT program teaches 9th through 12th graders from around the Bay Area about soil science and tidal marsh transition zones. But I’m truly excited that DIRT empowers teenagers, especially young women, to feel confident in their math and science skills. Connecting a new generation to our local wetlands through observation, data collection, and hands-on restoration will lead to a brighter future for the Bay Area.

Thank you, Gina and friends, for capturing this exciting day. We hope to see you in the field again soon!

Lessons from Coastal Cleanup Day 2015

Coastal Cleanup Day Volunteers
Coastal Cleanup Day volunteers pick up trash along the MLK Shoreline in Oakland.

Every year, the third Saturday of September is set aside as Coastal Cleanup Day. Observed internationally, this is a day when many people from all over the globe participate in removing waste from our coastlines and waterways. An astonishing amount of trash is removed from creeks, beaches, sloughs and bays. The Ocean Conservancy reports that 560,000 volunteers in 91 countries picked up more than 16 million pounds of trash on Coastal Cleanup Day 2014! This year’s event reiterated, in my mind, the need to address pollution at the source.

I am proud to share that on September 19th, over 100 Save The Bay volunteers cleaned up nearly 1 mile of land bordering waterways in Oakland and San Jose, and removed 1,600 pounds of trash. Most of these items include fast foodware, one-time use products, and tobacco litter. This trash travels down storm drains that directly connect city and suburban streets to our beloved San Francisco Bay, allowing trash and unseen pollutants to enter the Bay unfiltered and untreated.

Although Save The Bay leads many wetland restoration programs year-round, Coastal Cleanup Day is by far my favorite day of the year, albeit a day of disheartening and discouraging feelings. I often hear volunteers say “I can’t believe this” or “This is so depressing”, and that feeling resonates with me most. The hundreds of food wrappers, straws, cigar tips, toys, and Styrofoam pieces found in a 3-foot radius around you can make trash cleanup feel overwhelming, but that can be a good thing.

This new-found perspective on just how much trash ends up in our waterways often motivates change. I encourage volunteers to take note of items we find on the shoreline and draw connections to things we all use in everyday life. Straws? No, thank you. Coffee cups and lids, complete with a sleeve? Bring your own mug and you’ll cut down on three pieces of waste in one purchase. The more we make these everyday changes and replace one-time use items with reusable options, the more impact we’ll each have on reducing pollution and waste. Lastly, make sure that the trash we do produce ends up in the proper receptacles, so we can recycle salvageable items and ensure that trash will not enter our waterways.

Check out the top ten items collected in California on Coastal Cleanup Day. Which do you use? How will you prevent pollution? Join Save The Bay and pledge to keep trash from flowing into San Francisco Bay before we need to clean it up.

Endangered Species Carnival

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On a Bay Discovery program, Khan Lab School students willfully pulled invasive mustard and radish to help create natural wildlife habitat for endangered species like the Ridgway’s rail and the salt marsh harvest mouse. Leading up to this program, the students had already investigated the varying endangered species that live in the Bay Area. Fueled by the project–based learning approach of Khan Lab School, these students did extraordinary research on local endangered species and completed awe-inspiring projects to share their knowledge about their respective species and help protect them.

I was lucky to attend Khan Lab School’s Endangered Species Carnival, a culminating event that was designed to raise awareness and funds in their local community of Mountain View. This Endangered Species Carnival was so inspirational! I still get goose bumps when I think about the dedication and hard work that each and every student put into their project about the species they chose. Community members cashed in carnival tickets to participate in the numerous fun and educational activities centered on endangered species.

A unique carnival 

At the Maker Space, there were arts and crafts to re-create the salt marsh harvest mouse, western snowy plover, and the Mt. Hermon beetle. At the Game Center, participants learned about the Bay Checkerspot butterfly, the Delta smelt, the Bald Eagle, and the San Francisco garter snake. There was also Test Your Brain, an endangered species themed form of Jeopardy, complete with podiums and student crafted buzzers. In Colorful Caterpillars, participants hid a paper caterpillar underneath leaves to protect it from predators. The test? A robotic predator programmed by students to hunt for the caterpillar, and if you hid your caterpillar well in the environment, then it survived to become a San Bruno Elfin Butterfly! At the Save The Whales booth, gamers were given 3 ping pong balls to hit easy, medium or hard targets and learned about the threats humans impose on whales. In addition to all of these games, there was a student-engineered hover board ride, photo booths, and a delightful snack stand, complete with chocolate pacific pond turtles and snow cones.

The most moving part of Khan Lab School’s Endangered Species Carnival was the excitement and wonder in every child’s eyes about these species. They were eager to talk about their experiences throughout the school year and how we can all make a difference. The choreographed finale was easily the showstopper of the carnival. I was even inspired to buy a t-shirt printed with “Endangered Species Carnival”, and brimmed with pride thinking about how each student will affect the world around them. Last but not least, the proceeds were donated to multiple non-profits around the Bay Area that work to protect endangered species, including Save The Bay.

Help restore habitat for the Bay Area’s endangered species by signing up to volunteer with Save The Bay.

A Rewarding Experience

Earlier this month, my fellow restoration specialist and I had the privilege to lead a restoration education program with My City School, a new school in San Francisco created for students with mild to moderate learning disabilities. I was contacted by the school’s coordinator, also a parent and founder, who inspired me with her story of how she sought out a way to provide a better learning experience for her child, as well as other young, challenged students in San Francisco. I was touched by her story and eager to offer My City School students the experience of a wetland restoration program with Save The Bay.

My city school photo
Students from My City School visit our MLK Jr. Shoreline site. From left to right: Will, Dimitri, Bella, Rachelle, and Tommy.

On their Bay Discovery trip at the Martin Luther King Jr. Shoreline, we transplanted gumplant seedlings, went for a “wetland walk” during which we explored the features of wetland ecosystems, and participated in a shoreline trash cleanup. As group leaders, we were able to spend one-on-one time with the students and teach them about the Bay, the wetland ecosystem, and measures we can take to help it thrive. We also watched terns diving for fish and manta rays swimming in the shallows!

All in all, the most memorable part of this experience came at the end of the program, when these students expressed how thankful they were for spending the day with Save The Bay and making the Bay a better place for us all. This event noticeably spurred their passion to protect, restore, and celebrate the San Francisco Bay. I speak for both my coworker and I when I say that this was a truly rewarding experience, and one that highlights the importance of our education programs for students of all varieties.

Learn more about our Restoration Education Programs here.

Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse, the Tiniest Endangered Species

Most inhabitants of the Bay Area are aware of threatened species such as the sea otter and harbor porpoise, or even the endangered California clapper rail, but there’s a mammal that’s completely unique to the Bay Area and so tiny most people have never even seen one.This mammal, among the smallest rodents in the U.S., lives only here in the Bay in a very specific habitat, and can be credited with much of the tidal marsh restoration happening now.

In 1970, thanks to the work of Dr. Howard Shellhammer, the Environmental Protection Agency listed the salt marsh harvest mouse as endangered, and kick-started the explosion of San Francisco Bay conservation efforts. The endangered status of the salt marsh harvest mouse halted plans for development, agriculture, and industrialization of natural marsh habitat. US EPA - Endangered Species Facts  - Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse

A salt marsh harvest mouse is about the size of one’s thumb, largely nocturnal, and lives among the reddish pickle weed in the low tidal marsh—an area frequently subject to tidal inundation. Salt marsh harvest mice are adapted to live in this challenging environment, as they can swim short distances and consume food and water with a high salt content.

During high tides and peak flooding by storms, salt marsh harvest mice escape into the upland marsh for protection. It is this safe-haven habitat that has been greatly diminished and is of most concern for the survival of these tiny mammals. Without this high tide refugia, or proper corridors permitting travel to them, salt marsh harvest mice are subject to drowning and predation. The threat of sea level rise makes this an even greater concern

Although some of the habitat of the salt marsh harvest mouse is protected around the Bay, the continuing threats from pollution, poor water quality, invasive species, and habitat fragmentation are driving the population into further decline. Under the umbrella of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service Tidal Marsh Recovery Plan, Save The Bay is working to prevent the loss of the salt marsh harvest mouse by preserving and restoring vital marshland habitat. Harvest mouse habitat is also habitat for hundreds of other species. That’s why Save The Bay works to prevent further filling of Bay tidal marsh, combat pollution, and restore the vital marsh habitat that the salt marsh harvest mice use during winter high tides and storms.

This winter we are planting 45,000 plants to provide suitable marsh habitat for this endangered species. Volunteer with us this season to plant suitable refuge for these unique, adorable rodents!