Facebook Intern Service Day at Bair Island – 100 days of work in one day!

Sunny skies greeted hundreds of Facebook interns as they poured onto the pathway leading to the three-acre restoration site at Bair Island. More than 350 enthusiastic volunteers were met by equally delighted restoration scientists and fellows from Save The Bay, ready to start the day.

FB at Bair

In our second year hosting Facebook’s interns on the shoreline, we made history completing our biggest program ever. In just one day at Bair Island, volunteers accomplished what it would take one of our restoration team members more than 100 days to do! 

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Once a thriving tidal marsh, the 3,000-acre Bair Island was drained in the 1800s and later transformed into salt evaporation ponds. It was rescued from development in the 1980s by a group of concerned citizens, Friends of Redwood City. Bair Island is now home to over 150 species of birds and wildlife and is protected as part of the Don Edwards Wildlife Refuge.

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A long-running rehabilitation process has been underway to restore Bair Island. Save The Bay’s project is a part of a regional effort to restore Bair Island, including restoration partners the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory, among others.

Yesterday, volunteers worked on Inner Bair Island to help us prepare the site for planting by removing 3360 lbs of invasive Stinkwort and Wild Mustard. With generous support from the Bently Foundation, this three-acre site will be the future location of a leading-edge pilot project to accelerate native plant establishment in the transition zone. Our work will increase habitat for fish and wildlife, improve water quality, and contribute to crucial flood protection for local communities facing increasing risk from sea level rise.

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Building community and bringing people closer together is at the core of Facebook’s mission, and a strong synergy with Save The Bay’s mission to connect people to San Francisco Bay and the Bay Area’s sustainable future. Yesterday, 350+ interns were able to connect to each other and their environment, giving them a brand new view of the Bay only minutes away from Facebook’s campus.

Yesterday at Bair Island was a highlight of a growing partnership. We are also thrilled to announce Facebook’s lead partnership in Bay Day 2017, our Earth Day for the Bay.

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Volunteers are a huge part of achieving our restoration goals and working towards a climate-resilient Bay. With wind in their hair, 700 hands in the dirt, and 100 days of work achieved in one day, Facebook interns made critical progress towards a healthier Bay. Thank you Facebook for bringing your energy and muscle to help restore Bair Island!

Want to get involved? Explore Bair Island’s publicly accessible trails or come out on the shoreline and restore habitat with Save The Bay!

Click here to view more pictures from this event. 

Facing Down the Threat of Phytophthora

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While Save The Bay is known primarily for policy and advocacy work, our restoration and education programs have grown immensely in the past twenty years. In addition to restoring the Bay’s wetland ecosystem by planting transition zone species, we also grow all of the plants ourselves in our native plant nurseries at the MLK Jr. Shoreline in Oakland and the Palo Alto Baylands in the Peninsula.

Each year we typically grow and install 35,000 plants into the ground. And last year we actually surpassed our annual totals by planting 100,000 native seedlings to complete several large-scale restoration projects, including the Horizontal Levee Project at the Oro Loma Sanitary District!

When I first joined the team as the Nursery and Habitat Restoration Fellow at the beginning of 2017, I knew planting native species and teaching students about Bay ecology would be a large part of my job. But, I never thought I’d learn as much as I did about plant disease.

One of the biggest threats native plant nurseries face today is the spread of plant pathogens, partially as a result of increased global trade and transportation. Right now in the Bay Area, the invasive pathogen that is on everyone’s radar is a genus called Phytophthora.

There are currently over 150 different documented species of Phytophthora worldwide, some of which are lethal to many native plant communities in our state. This water mold, or oomycete, causes a plant’s roots to rot which kills the entire organism.

One well-known example is Phytophthora ramorum, or more commonly referred to as Sudden Oak Death, has killed over three million oak trees in California. Another more recently identified species is Phytophthora tentaculata, which was first spotted in California in 2012 on a sticky monkey-flower (Diplacus aurantiacus). Although more research needs to be done, researchers don’t know all of the plants that P. tentaculata can live on, it is highly likely that many California native plants can act as its host.

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Unfortunately, the cost of eradicating Phytophthora once it has spread into wildlands is very high and the process is extremely difficult. But, if left untreated and uncontrolled, Phytophthora activity could increase and cause even more harm to native plant communities throughout California. In other words, transmitting Phytophthora to a restoration site would be a worst case scenario. That’s why prevention is key.

In addition to following a set of best management practices recommended by plant pathologists, Save The Bay is now leading a movement to tackle Phytophthora prevention head-on, using innovative and scientific techniques including:

  • reconfiguring our nurseries and updating porous surfaces so everything can be sanitized
  • requiring all nursery visitors to spray the bottoms of their shoes with an isopropyl alcohol solution to avoid tracking in contaminated dirt
  • mobilizing volunteers to help clean the pots used to grow and transplant our native species during community restoration events.

To further reduce the risk of plant-killing pathogens from invading our nurseries, we searched for a clean, uncontaminated soil source to use (ideally before the start of the 2017 planting season). During our search, we quickly realized that a Phytophthora-free soil currently doesn’t exist in the market. So, we decided to start making our own!

Soil BBQ

Together alongside Save The Bay’s Nursery Manager Jessie Olson, we worked together to invent a solution that would allow us to heat large quantities of moist soil at 140 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes with steam — an environment that would kill any present water mold.

33314422745_800736afbe_oUsing a design pioneered by The Watershed Nursery as a guideline, we rigged together parts from a propane barbecue, steel trash can, and other heavy duty materials to create a soil treatment system. You know the cooling process is complete when you smell that fresh and organic compost smell!

Constructing a closed heat treatment system like this, let alone three, is a huge milestone that many nurseries in the region have not yet reached. Although it required some trial and error to assemble and operate (who knew you could cut copper pipe with a PVC pipe cutter?), this was an exciting cutting-edge project for me to be part of.

Best of all, starting this season we will be able to propagate all of our new seedlings in our clean soil! Or put another way, in laymen terms, Save The Bay now has the cleanest dirt in the Bay Area!

Alleviate your wildflower FOMO by the Bay

Carrizo Plain National Monument! Anza Borrego Desert State Park! Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve State National Reserve! Even a Nursery Manager can lose hours in envy, glazing over thousands of seasonal wildflower photos shared on social media. Without the time or means, it can be easy to feel FOMO (fear of missing out) during this extraordinary drought-free year, but our Bay is also home to numerous show-stopping wildflower species that are benefiting from the rain as well.

At Save The Bay’s nurseries, we grow several native species whose flowers are worth seeking out on your exploratory hikes around the Bay. Here are some of my favorite native Bay flowers that are in full bloom now:

Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum)


Eye-catching and charismatic, blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum) is found in various plant communities all over California. This blue to purple-flowered perennial is yet another native species with a deceptive common name – it is actually not a grass, but is more closely related to the iris.

Sticky Monkey Flower (Mimulus aurantiacus)

In showy bloom all over our restoration sites is sticky monkey flower (Mimulus aurantiacus), a native shrub species beloved by pollinators and human wildflower enthusiasts alike. Though I like to joke that their blooms are a shade of orange alarmingly close in color to Mac & Cheese, I always appreciate its joyful presence. Sticky monkey flower is extremely drought tolerant, but seems to be appreciating the deep-root watering it received this year. It’s also popular with local pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

California Melic Grass (Melica Californica)

Let us not forget the unassuming inflorescences of some of our native grass species – I know that I am not alone in my love for a remnant coastal prairie. My personal favorite is California melic grass (Melica californica) with its jewel-like, burgundy striped florets.

Purple Needle Grass (Stipa pulchra)


Another beloved species grown in Save The Bay’s nurseries is purple needle grass (Stipa pulchra). This common perennial bunchgrass is not only stunning when viewed in its native plant communities, but it was also crowned our official State grass in 2004. You can spot this grassland species at beautiful Bayfront parks like Coyote Hills Regional Park in Hayward and the Presidio Coastal Bluffs in San Francisco.

California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica)

It wouldn’t be a wildflower report without a shout out to the ubiquitous California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) – our state flower. The genus of this species was named after the German botanist Johann Friedrich von Eschscholtz. I recommend spending a minute longer closely studying the poppy this year – it is a remarkably beautiful flower.

But wait, there’s more!

Marsh gumplantEarly spring wildflowers aren’t the only celebrities of our restoration sites! Many species bloom in the summer and fall, providing color to the transition zone and a food source for our animal and insect neighbors during the drier months. I particularly look forward to the cotton candy tufts of our native buckwheat species (Eriogonium nudum and E. fasciculatum) throughout the summer in upland plant communities. 

Last year we were also treated to a stunning floral display from marsh gumplant (Grindelia stricta). This deep yellow, sunflower relative can be seen in the tidal marsh and transition zone, lending cover for protected animal species during high tides.

Sign up for one of our restoration work events to see some of these species in their full glory. You can also catch them earlier in the restoration cycle by aiding our propagation efforts in the nursery in the next few months. We are entering into transplanting season for plants that will be outplanted next winter.

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Ecoliteracy: Are People Like Squashes?

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An old zen tale

Allow me to bend your ear with an old Buddhist fable. There once was an old monastery with a garden out back. One day, the head monk heard an assortment of shouting coming from the garden. Upon inspection, the monk observed that all the squashes were fighting. The wise master asked them to calm down and touch the tops of their heads. The squashes were surprised to find vines attached to their tops. They all followed their vines back to one big plant. The squashes celebrated joyfully with the realization that they were part of the same interconnected family.

People, like the squashes in the beginning of the tale, often forget that they are connected to nature and each other. We repeatedly pollute and destroy natural environments that we perceive as unrelated. But scientists and ecologists have come to understand the connectivity of all living organisms and their related natural environments. The world is really just a bundle of overlapping ecosystems. To hurt one, is to hurt the other.

Ecopsychologists seek to understand why human behaviors continually damage the earth. If self-preservation is one of our most embedded natural instincts, then why would we consciously hurt ourselves? In other words, why are we constantly hurting natural environments that will in turn hurt people? Like the squashes, are we simply unaware that we are connected to nature?

To answer these questions, we’ll turn to the original ecologists—the Buddhists. Many in this tradition argue that our anthropocentric and self-centered mindsets create a lack of feeling and connection to the natural world, leading to the delusion of separation. This rift then creates a fragmented self, separate from other things. Conflicts then arise in this fragmented state, between the “self” and the “other.”

 We all could use a tall glass of ecoliteracy

Chances are you probably won’t be able to find the word “Ecoliteracy” in the dictionary. Ecoliteracy is just a modern scrunching together of two words: Ecology—relations and interactions between organisms and their environments, and Literacy—the state of being literate. Ecoliteracy can plainly be defined as the ability to comprehend the many interrelated natural systems that maintain the earth. Educators in the field of ecoliteracy, aim to teach awareness and comprehension around ecological communities, emphasizing human behaviors and impacts. So how can we become ecoliterate?

Get ’em while their youngEB3

If children are like sponges, then adults are like faucets. Meaning—that while children absorb and learn at incredible rates, what they absorb is often determined by what we expose them to. David Orr, a distinguished environmental studies professor, suggests that our meager comprehension of ecosystems and sustainable practices, are the result of poor education, and that we particularly fail to teach young students about being a part of nature. As the digital age and growing urbanization of the world increases, children experience longer periods of isolation from natural environments. Author Richard Louv, credited with inspiring a worldwide movement in re-connecting children back to nature, describes today’s child as experiencing a kind of “nature deficit disorder.” The lack of natural exposure and experiences for children often negatively affects their individual growth and our overall society.

It’s not enough to just provide students with classroom lectures, books or computer programs—when teaching environmental relationships. They may learn intellectually, but lack a genuine connection to the natural environment. Young people need the experience of nature to feel connected to it. Research suggests, that teaching children about the environment at a young age leaves lasting influences that remain into adulthood. Children need this connection with nature to prosper mentally and physically, as individuals and as communities (Witt & Kimple, 2008).

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The San Francisco Bay wetlands     

 It can be hard to find and connect to nature in cities and urban areas. Luckily, the San Francisco Bay Area is crammed with green spaces and places to experience wildlife. The Bay Wetlands are rich in biodiversity, teeming with wildlife and hundreds of plant species. By walking or biking the Bay Trail with family, kayaking along the SF Water Trail with friends, or even just having a picnic at McLaughlin East Shore Park, one can experience a variety of wildlife and local vegetation, not to mention impressionistic like sunsets and tranquil waters. The Bay Wetlands are considered the heart and lungs of the Bay, boasting over 400 native species.

So how can we get children to both learn about and experience the Bay Wetlands? The Bay currently needs 100,000 acres of tidal marsh to be considered healthy. Restoration efforts from organizations like Save The Bay, are currently maintaining 45,000 acres of healthy marsh, with plans for restoring another 30,000 acres. Save The Bay’s Restoration Education Programs are designed to get educators, middle and high school students out into nature. Our curriculum not only meets STEM requirements, but also provides students with the opportunity to get their hands dirty and restore the Bay Wetlands themselves. This immersive outdoor experience strengthens one’s connection to the environment, providing children with the enrichment they need to develop into healthy nature-loving adults.

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Just a big kid yourself? Not to worry. Save The Bay also engages volunteers, schools and businesses in shoreline restoration and scientific monitoring. Whether you’re a large corporation looking for some team building exercises, or just a small family looking to support your local community, Save The Bay offers a variety of hands-on activities from planting to shoreline cleanup.

Looking forward

Unlike squashes, humans don’t have vines attached to the tops of their heads. Because we have trouble tracing our interconnectedness back to a source, we often accidentally hurt each other and the surrounding world. But, by becoming more ecoliterate and re-connecting back to nature, we begin to see our hidden vines, and discover our connection to each other and the beauty around us.

Bilingual learning at the Baylands

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“All right, let’s do Ridgway’s Rail. Repeat after me: ¡El!” I shout.

El,” reply the dozen fourth-grade students crowded around the bench.

Rascón,” I say, pointing to a laminated sign.

Rascón,” they chant back.

“¡De California!”

“¡De CaliforniaI!”

We’re in the middle of our “Wetland Exploration” activity along Adobe Creek Trail at the Palo Alto Baylands, which at first glance would seem like an unusual spot for a Spanish lesson. But it represents one of Save The Bay’s first steps toward making its educational programs more inclusive to all of the Bay Area’s students, including the many students who are immigrants and children of immigrants who don’t speak English at home.

As Save The Bay’s Temporary Spanish Language Project Specialist, I’ve helped Save The Bay take those first steps, specifically by translating and redesigning our key educational materials into Spanish.

Save The Bay currently runs educational programs at three restoration sites: Eden Landing Ecological Reserve in Hayward, Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline in East Oakland, and Palo Alto Baylands in East Palo Alto. All three of these sites are in neighborhoods where a majority of residents are working-class people of color. Students from all over the Bay Area visit our sites for field trips, and our programs reflect our region’s great diversity. Providing Spanish-language materials is one of the many ways we are working to make Save The Bay’s programs more meaningful, inclusive, and accountable to the students and communities with whom we work with. I’m honored to have been a part of it.

It’s been especially fun teaching our key wetland vocabulary in both languages, as some students fluent in Spanish are excited at the chance to teach their classmates. When I hold up a handful of Bay mud, teeming with microbial and invertebrate life, and ask who knows how to say “mud” in Spanish, a few students yell out “¡Lodo!” Then, while I talk about how the mud is the base of the salt marsh food web, the group gets the chance to stick their hands in a bucket and finger-paint it on their faces.

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Translating some of our educational cards of endangered animals, native plants, and invasive species presented some interesting linguistic challenges I hadn’t expected. Some species have well-used Spanish common names because they are also found in Latin America, like salt grass (la grama salada) whose range extends as far south as Argentina. Other species have names from Spain, such as yarrow (la milenrama) with its circumpolar distribution; and invasive species from the Mediterranean, such as fennel (el hinojo).

However, some of our California endemics have no widely-used contemporary Spanish name as far as I can tell. A few plants have beautifully descriptive old Californio Spanish names though, like marsh gumplant (la flor de agosto, literally “the flower of August”) and California buckwheat (la patita de venado, literally “deer’s paw”), so I used those names in our translations. But for a couple of secretive endemic animals who escaped the eyes of the Californios, I was left to simply translate their English names literally. Now we can all know our beloved salt marsh harvest mouse by another name: el ratón campestre de la marisma salina.

It’s a bit unwieldy, but the fourth graders still have a fun time yelling it.

Save The Bay was founded by three outstanding women over fifty years ago, and we are still living with the legacy of a Bay that’s only been made healthier and better-protected since then. But we must also recognize that these three women were white and had means, and that many other voices tell different stories about their relationship to the Bay and what it means to save it. As long as the Bay has existed there have been people of color who have stewarded it, and developing partnerships with the many marginalized communities who work to make the Bay beautiful and livable is tantamount in an age of environmental injustice. As this place we call home faces a new generation of environmental challenges, we will only be able to meet them if we consciously make space for everyone to develop a relationship with the Bay and save it.

So in Tagalog or Cantonese, Arabic or Farsi, Chochenyo Ohlone or any of the other languages that we speak: how would you say “It takes all of us to protect and restore the Bay”?