Apollo’s Mission to the Bay

The first time Gerry Martinez, a 12th-grader at Apollo High School in East San Jose, came out to the Bay shoreline he was surprised by the number of insects and animals he saw. Before he got up close out on the marsh, he thought it was “so empty and dry, it didn’t look like anything lived there.”

Photo by Nate Bowen. Left to Right: Magally Leanos, Jude Bowen, Jonathan Cisneros, and Monik Sandoval

It’s common for people to be surprised by the teeming life of the tidal marsh. Birds twitter and fly overhead; lizards skitter around; in the mud, tiny hermit crabs dart and dig. Yet, these signs of life are not visible from the Bay Area’s freeways, which is as close as many people ever get to the Bay.

Another student at Apollo, Magally Leanos, said she was surprised by the “piles and piles of trash” out on the marsh, adding that she “didn’t know the Bay was at risk. From a distance it looks so clean.”

Both Gerry and Magally are participants in Save The Bay’s restoration education programs for schools, which teach ecological stewardship and community leadership, using the Bay as a classroom and laboratory. Both students attend Apollo, which helps at-risk students get back on track. Their history teacher, Nate Bowen, says that the science education they get out on their marsh visit is valuable, but what’s even more valuable is that the students come away from the experience with “a sense that they’re contributing.”

Nate said that for urban students like Gerry and Magally, being out in nature is a new experience. Because the students have come out numerous times, they’ve had the opportunity to engage in different restoration activities including planting, weeding, and picking up trash. Nate says, “It’s neat to see the work we’ve done when we come back to the same spot”. When asked what would keep him coming back on his own, Gerry says it’s both the feeling that he’s “part of the community” and the “sense of pride” he gets from helping out.

The students have helped out in very significant ways. During one particular planting event, they worked with a group of other volunteers to plant 827 native plants; they’ve removed bags and bags of invasive weeds; and they’ve picked up trash. Lots of it.

This certainly restores the shoreline, and it also restores the students. Seeing the Bay up close has changed how the students see their environment and their place in it.
Gerry said that although he expected to find some trash, “I realized trash goes through sewers and it surprised me how much garbage ends up in the Bay.”
“Before I didn’t really think about the Bay,” said Magally. “I used to litter. Now when I see trash, I think about the Bay. I think about how it would look if we didn’t do creek cleanups anywhere. I was not aware before. Now I would like to go and help and teach other kids.”

Learn more about our restoration education programs for schools.

Notes from the Field | Summer Starts in the Marsh!

As the 2012-2013 school year comes to a close, and we welcome summer, Save The Bay’s habitat restoration team temporarily says goodbye to many of the school groups that worked with us this year.

As I reflect on the students’ huge contribution to restoring the Bay shoreline, and all the hard work, I am incredibly proud to have the opportunity to work with such a committed group of students and teachers.

The numbers speak for themselves: jess_blog_photo

  • This school year we worked with 1,516 students and 308 teachers and chaperones
  • Students contributed 7,281 hours of restoration effort
  • Students planted an impressive 3,842 native plants and removed 14,457 pounds of invasive species along the Bay shoreline at a number of sites
  • Students helped us transplant 704 plants in our nursery

While engaging in direct, hands-on restoration of the Bay shoreline, students discover different aspects of the San Francisco Bay through soil sampling, species identification, and a variety of other fun activities.

Students and teachers reflect on their experiences during the 2012-2013 school year:

“It is a fun, productive way to make a connection to your watershed while improving it for the future. Students are stewards!”
5th grade teacher

“One of my favorite trips- excellent science in action!”
6th grade teacher

“Students are engaged and having fun, and they enjoy doing work that is beneficial to the environment.”
10th grade teacher

“This is a must do! Wonderful hands on experience”
9th grade teacher

“Thank you for being an amazing instructor! I learned so much with you!”
6th grade student

“The field trip was really fun and informative. I loved the weeding and the trash pickup. ”
6th grade student

“I learned never to litter or else the stream would end up nasty!!!”
6th grade student

Even though the school year is over, there are still plenty of opportunities for Bay Area youth to get out on the Bay. We welcome summer students from camps and enrichment programs throughout the Bay Area. If you’re interested in joining us for a marsh adventure this summer, contact restoration education specialist Jess Madding at jmadding@saveSFbay.org.

Six Ways to Celebrate the Bay

We’re celebrating the Bay!

We like to appreciate the Bay every day, but the first annual Bay-A-Thon is a special way to rally around the unique beauty of the San Francisco Bay. The Bay-A-Thon is about enjoying and protecting the unique treasures of the Bay, so we’ve complied six ways you can make a difference, today.

Six things you can do for the bay

Six Ways to Celebrate the 2013 Bay-A-Thon

1. Whether or not your community has banned plastic bags, remember to bring reusable bags when shopping. Plastic bags pollute the waters of the Bay, smother wetlands and entangle and kill wildlife, so keeping them out of the Bay is a direct way to protect the Bay. Keep reusable bags in your truck or bike basket, in your backpack; and next to your keys. Leave your best bag tips in the comments below and share how you remember to bring and use reusable bags!

2. Keep unwanted stuff out of the Bay. E-waste and old medications can contaminate millions of gallons of Bay water. Find your local center for these items and keep them out of the Bay!

3. Volunteer and restore natural habitats by hand at various sites around the Bay, and help toward our goal of re-establishing 100,000 acres of healthy wetlands around the Bay. You can have fun outdoors, learn about the Bay and help us protect it by joining one of our community based restoration programs.

4. Take Action. Help end the distribution of single-use plastic bags and have a direct hand in protecting the Bay and its wildlife. Sign the petition today to urge your elected officials to crack down on single-use bags.

5. Stay informed. Follow us on Facebook to get important Bay updates and breaking news as it happens, pose questions, or just say hello. We’re saving the Bay together, and we love to hear from you!

6. Donate. Every gift that Save The Bay receives by July 4th will be matched dollar-for-dollar, up to $150,000. Your donation goes directly to restoring healthy tidal marsh around the Bay…to implementing plastic bag bans around the Bay and toward our restoration education programs for youth that will educate and inspire the next generation of Bay protectors.

We’re not just saving the Bay for us here and now, but for future generations to enjoy the magnificent experiences we enjoy with our family and friends. What do you do every day to protect and save the Bay? Share your tips in the comments!

Guess Who’s Coming Back to the Bay!

I’m always stunned by what I find in my own backyard. Living near and commuting across the Bay, I keep stumbling on local treasures — an amazing view of the harbor from Noe Valley, or the Bay Bridge shimmering against the bright lights of rush hour traffic. I’m also discovering that I share a home with some surprising creatures- buffalo in Golden Gate Park, parrots in North Beach, even a river otter in the Sutro Baths.

But most surprising of all to me are the creatures that made their home here before I ever did, disappeared during World War II, stayed away for decades, and then one day, showed up under the Golden Gate Bridge.


San Francisco Bay was once home to harbor porpoises, where they dwelt happily for hundreds of years. But in the early 1940s, they fled the Bay, which had become too dangerous and polluted to call home. Since then, a whole generation of Bay Area folks has grown up here, never knowing that porpoises once lived, played, and thrived right in their backyard. Now, more than 70 years later, they’re coming back. 

Why, after all this time, are they returning? Early signs point to better water quality and the overall health of the Bay as the most important factor. So far, nearly 300 porpoises have been spotted under the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge, one of their favorite spots for fishing… and mating.

It’s exciting to think that these porpoises may be the first of many harbor porpoises that make their home in the San Francisco Bay.  But the truth is, this is a small and delicate start. There’s still much to be done to improve the water quality of the Bay. If many of us still don’t want to swim in and fish in it, why would a large mammal, sitting at the top of the food chain?

That’s why we’re asking the San Francisco Water Board to help us clean up the Bay, by standing up to the major corporations- like C&H Sugar and Tesoro Refining- who are polluting our backyard and endangering these porpoises. If you want to see even more porpoises coming home to the Bay, tell the San Francisco Regional Water Board to stand up to polluters right now. Better yet, spread the word. Help us reach our goal of 5,000 signatures by Earth Day (April 22nd).


The Bay is such a big part of what makes living here special- why we’re some of the happiest people on the planet. But after suffering years of pollution, shoreline encroachment, and neglect, the Bay is not in the shape it used to be in. And that’s why we’ve launched For The Bay: to bring people like you and me together to reclaim the treasure of our region, the San Francisco Bay –our backyard, our playground, home to diverse creatures, like the harbor porpoises.


Learning from The Bay

Max in his Seven-Gill Shark helmet that he made in art class
Max, a student at Marin County Day School, models his Seven-Gill Shark helmet. Click here to listen to his song about the Bay.

A large part of our organization is focused on education: teaching kids and adults at our restoration programs and engaging the public through outreach and actions. We are always looking for new ways to talk about endangered species or invasive species, plastic bags or Styrofoam, the Bay history or the Bay future. And we hope to inspire a sense of appreciation and respect for the Bay.

Of course, we are in good company in our love for San Francisco Bay. Many Bay Area residents already have pride in and gratitude for the Bay, and some of you think of rather creative ways to show it. Sometimes, you share these projects with us. At Marin Country Day School, 5th graders created songs inspired by the Bay.

The teacher, Liz Zavaterro explains, “In science class, the students studied ecosystems, how they function, and what they need to thrive. To deepen their learning, students chose a local animal from an ecosystem near campus (the salt marsh, the Bay, or Ring Mountain) to research and investigate. In turn, the research informed the lyrics for the eco-songs, as well as contributed to the creation of an animal mask created in art class. The masks were worn at “The Council of Beings” to represent the various species in our local ecosystems.”

Two Marin students, Max and George (now in the 6th grade) were the creators of a particularly catchy song, proclaiming “The Bay is our home”. They shared their thoughts on the importance of the Bay.

George: I think it is important because everything is connected and if one thing is out of balance the whole ecosystem [is].

Max: The Bay’s creatures are vulnerable to things like pollution, oil spills, and over-fishing. The creatures LIVE there [and we need to share it], otherwise, we’re kind of being “shellfish.” There is only one San Francisco Bay. I hope we can all treat it with respect. As our song says, “The bay is our home so don’t pollute it; we animals live here and you better salute it.”

All of the songs are posted on SoundCloud. We hope these students’ creativity and love for the Bay inspire you too.