Behind the Scenes of Bay Day: Looking Back and Gearing Up!

As a Marin County native, I can’t help but appreciate rolling hills, towering redwoods, and vibrant wildflowers. I grew up hiking Mount Tamalpais, and I’ve always loved reaching its peak and looking out at San Francisco Bay.

With these memories in mind, I started a full-time job at Save The Bay last summer after graduating college with an Environmental Studies degree. I was excited to find out that Save The Bay had created an official, region-wide holiday dedicated to celebrating San Francisco Bay, its people and wildlife. I was even more thrilled to learn that I would be heavily involved in planning… Bay Day!

As the weeks flew by, I found it rewarding to translate my college coursework into on-the-ground advocacy for SF Bay. I reached out to local businesses and organizations to spread the word about Bay Day. I packed boxes, loaded trucks, and organized materials to ensure our Bay-saving team was ready to go for the big day.

All that work paid off when October rolled around. On Bay Day 2017, I was so inspired to watch families learn together about the issues affecting our Bay. I was and still am proud that our dedicated staff, volunteers, community partners, and sponsors hosted more than 70 activities across nine Bay Area counties.

This Bay Day, we’re inspiring the Bay Hero in everyone and will recognize Bay Heroes who protect our Bay in extraordinary ways. We will also encourage Bay Area residents to register to VOTE to make their voice heard at the ballot box this November. And, it wouldn’t be Bay Day without an opportunity to DIG IN at one of our restoration events.

Check out our full events calendar and mark your calendars for Saturday, October 6. I hope you will join us in celebrating our beautiful Bay!

Solstice on the Shoreline

From the ancient Egyptians to the Ohlone living here in the Bay Area, many cultures experience winter as a powerful time of ritual, reflection, and renewal. The season officially begins Thursday, December 21st – with a solstice! The term translates to “sun stands still,” as the sun appears to pause in its incremental journey across the sky.
All smiles for Solstice on the Shoreline!
Our dedicated volunteer group was all smiles for Solstice on the Shoreline!
Save The Bay decided to mark this changing of the seasons by planting seedlings with some of our most dedicated volunteers and donors. Through their labor and their generosity, this diverse community had already given richly to support our programs. But on last Saturday’s Solstice on the Shoreline event, they dug right into soil to help out even more. Former board members joined avid gardeners and corporate partners to put on gloves, pick up trowels, and protect our Bay.

 

Along the way, Donna Ball and Kenneth Rangel of our Restoration team explained how our staff cleans seeds and sanitizes soil using somewhat simple tools. They made clear these tasks can be both intricate and time-consuming without advanced technology. However, as we build the support necessary to cover this equipment, Save The Bay staffers remain plenty resourceful in their push to create habitat. 
 
Meanwhile, high winds and incredibly hard ground never phased our passionate participants last weekend. Our restoration staff used an auger – a drill bit that can create holes in the ground – to start each of our planting spots. Then, our lively group got to work (sometimes wielding pickaxes!). In the end, we carved a warm bed to lay the young seedlings.
 
Building community to share Save The Bay’s story is a key part of my role as Events & Outreach Manager. I’m thrilled that the events I design and host can genuinely boost the health of San Francisco Bay. Witnessing that “A-ha” moment on a volunteer’s face as they begin to understand their own role in protecting our Bay is incredibly rewarding. After all, my own positive experiences as a student and educator are a major source of inspiration as I work to connect – and expand – Save The Bay’s community.
 
Save The Bay is a resource for learning, scientific exploration, rejuvenation, and above all, making memories.  With the hustle and bustle of the holidays, I encourage you to take a moment to breathe in the Bay air, take a calming walk along its shores and rejuvenate your soul.  We are ready to start building a year’s worth of amazing events and gatherings for 2018. I look forward to seeing you at Blue, our Bay Brunch Cruise on Earth Day (April 22, 2018), and Bay Day, our region-wide celebration for San Francisco Bay, on October 6, 2018.

 

You and your family can also join one of our public programs for free throughout the year. Save The Bay relies on thousands of volunteers annually to make progress on our many wetland restoration projects. Check our calendar often as spaces fill quickly. We can also create dedicated private restoration events for your group or company. Contact Jack Wolfink at jwolflink@savesfbay.org to learn more.

 

State of the San Francisco Estuary Conference 2017

The 2017 State of the San Francisco Estuary Conference, held recently in Oakland, gave scientists, land managers, policy makers, community leaders, as well as writers and artists from across the Bay-Delta region an opportunity to connect with one another, and to build connections between their various fields. Throughout the conference, attendees were welcomed to “get out of their silos,” and explore the interrelatedness of their fields. The conference also provided a venue to look back at the past 20 years of tidal marsh restoration; to celebrate successes, evaluate where we fell short, and anticipate future challenges and opportunities for restoring San Francisco Bay.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

This years State of the Estuary coincided with a number of milestones for many tidal marsh restoration projects in the Bay Area. Michelle Orr of ESA and Eric Joliffe of USACE presented on their decades long monitoring of the Sonoma Baylands Restoration project, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. Initiated in 1996, the Sonoma Baylands constitutes 300 acres of deeply subsided agricultural baylands, and is one of the first tidal marsh restoration projects in the Bay Area to utilize beneficial reuse of dredged material to help bring the baylands up to marsh plane to re-establish pickleweed, the dominant marsh plant in our area. In 2014, the project finally met their success criteria of 65% native plant cover, mostly due to the successful establishment of native pickleweed and cordgrass. The project is already providing value for the endangered species that call San Francisco Bay home. In 2016, scientists detected 19 Ridgeways Rails utilizing the newly formed marshes of Sonoma Baylands, showing that this endangered species has the capacity to recover so long as we are able to restore their habitat.

Another project that has reached an important milestone is the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project. The largest tidal restoration project on the West Coast, this ambitious project aims to restore over 15,000 acres of former industrial salt ponds in the South Bay back to historic tidal wetlands. The project recently celebrated the end of Phase 1 of the project, which aimed to restore 10% of the project area to tidal wetlands while experimenting with novel restoration and management practices.

Since the first levees were breached in 2006, scientists have found that a number of wildlife species, such as Salt Marsh Harvest Mice, Ridgeways Rails, and Harbor Seals have greatly benefited from the increased availability of marsh habitat. In addition, the number of migratory waterbirds visiting these areas has doubled between 2002 and 2014! They are also finding that these salt ponds are returning to tidal marshes at a faster than anticipated rate, even though the amount of suspended sediment in the South Bay has declined in recent years. This sediment is vitally important to marsh growth, as the build up of mud over time allows marsh plants to establish in newly restored areas. These lessons learned will be invaluable as the project advances to Phase 2, where work to restore tidal marsh will accelerate to cover 50% of the project area.

Challenges Ahead

While celebrating the successes of the past, many speakers also brought up the challenges that our tidal wetlands will face in the future. Accelerating sea level rise, decreased sediment entering into the bay, and changing levels of salinity will all impact the health of the bay and jeopardize our capacity to successfully restore 100,000 acres of tidal marshes as necessitated in the Baylands Ecosystem Habitat Goals.

The Delta and our local creeks have historically supplied the Bay with much needed sediment to replenish our marshes with changing sea levels. This supply of sediment has dwindled in the past century as water policy shifted towards the large scale damming of upstream rivers, trapping sediment upstream and starving the Bay of much needed mud and clay. Scientists estimate that without changes in how we manage this valuable but often overlooked resource, our baylands just won’t be able to keep up with sea level rise.

Although our marshes have been resilient to sea level rise historically, the rate of sea level rise is expected to accelerate in the coming decades: by 2100, scientists predict that the worlds oceans will rise by 3.5 feet! Almost all of our highways, ports, and airports will need to be upgraded to adapt to this drastic rise in sea level.

Sea level rise in particular has the potential to disproportionately impact low-income communities of color. Many Bay Area communities, from West Oakland and Richmond, to East Palo Alto, are situated close to the shoreline and are most at risk to displacement and gentrification due to sea level rise. Doria Robinson of Urban Tilth spoke for the need to involve these fenceline communities in every step of the wetland restoration process: from leading the design process, to employing members of the community to implement these projects. Equity for communities of color needs to be the foundation of all of our work.

Working Together

A major theme of this years conference was partnerships. Without the expertise and collaboration of multiple partners, the projects that we need to complete in order to protect our wetlands could never get off the ground. One such project is the Oro Loma Sanitary District Experimental Horizontal Levee, an innovative, multi-partner project that aims to protect our bayside infrastructure from the threat of rising seas.

Unlike a conventional, steeply sloped levee, a horizontal levee is built with a gentle slope and planted with native vegetation, giving marshes space to migrate upward and escape the rising seas. These levees are designed to protect coastal communities and bayside infrastructure from storm surges by absorbing floodwaters. They also have the added benefit of providing wildlife habitat, especially in urbanized areas where marshes lack the space to migrate without running into infrastructure such as roads and highways. The Oro Loma project will protect the aging Oro Loma wastewater treatment and purification plant from extreme storms, provide wildlife habitat and provide a model for adapting critical infrastructure to sea level rise. In addition, scientists are also studying how this project will reduce harmful bacteria, excess nutrients, heavy metals, and pharmaceuticals from entering into the Bay!

The Oro Loma project was one of six groundbreaking projects from across the Bay and Delta to be awarded the 2017 Outstanding Environmental Project Award. This award was granted to Save The Bay along with our partners at the Oro Loma Sanitary District, UC Berkeley, Environmental Science Associates, Coastal Ecologist Peter Baye, The San Francisco Estuary Partnership and The Bay Institute. We are incredibly proud of the work our staff and partners have done on this forward-thinking project.

Protecting San Francisco Bay from the twin threats of Climate Change and Sea Level Rise are daunting, existential challenges. The path towards a healthy San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary is murky, uncertain, and full of challenges. With so many different agencies, organizations, scientists, planners, economists, and policymakers gathered together united in their mission to protect our estuary, that path forward is becoming more and more clear.

 

Wetland Restoration is working. Here’s how.

From our friends at San Francisco Bay Joint Venture, these videos show how wetland restoration is working throughout the Bay Area. 

Check out the videos and take action to support wetland restoration projects near you.

Wetland Restoration is Working, Video Short # 1 – Heron’s Head Park

Wetland Restoration is Working, Video Short # 2 – San Pablo Bay

Welcome Silas, our new Restoration Project Specialist

Silas Ellison (far right)
Silas Ellison (far right) joins Save The Bay’s restoration team as a Restoration Project Specialist after a career driven by conservation and education efforts in the Bay Area.

The imminent threat to biodiversity here in the Bay Area has driven my career in conservation, and it’s what makes me so excited to join the restoration team at Save The Bay as their new Restoration Project Specialist.

V Lab 1
My work to establish new populations of the endangered Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog is one of the many roads that have led me to further my conservation career here at Save The Bay.

I feel so lucky to be part of this effort to restore critical habitat for the 100+ threatened and endangered species that call the Bay Area home.  Together with our dedicated volunteers and supporters, I know that we can restore the 100,000 acres of tidal marsh that experts believe the Bay needs to support a fully-functioning ecosystem.

Biodiversity on our planet is in the middle of an unprecedented crisis.  Extinctions are occurring faster than at any point in the past 65 million years—amphibians, for example, are disappearing 1,000 times faster than the historical average.  Extinctions have become so common and so widespread that a new consensus is emerging among scientists:  we are in the middle of the world’s sixth mass extinction.

I saw these effects firsthand when I was studying disease ecology and amphibian declines in the Vance Thomas Vredenburg Lab at San Francisco State University.  As a graduate student and lab manager, I collaborated with a team of government agencies and academic institutions to establish new populations of the endangered Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog, which has been devastated by invasive species and infectious disease (approximately 96 percent of these frog populations have been completely wiped out!).  I also used advanced molecular technology to study the community dynamics of bacteria and other microbes that live on the frogs’ skin.  I am fascinated by the interactions in an ecosystem that range across scales, connecting the tiniest of micro-organisms and their hosts to large-scale forces like tides that shape entire landscapes.

V Lab 2
Over the past several years, I’ve also had the opportunity to help protect several different habitat types around the Bay Area that include Presidio in SF and Mount Diablo State Park.

I am very excited to help our community to make these kinds of connections through our public and educational volunteer programs.

Earlier in my career, I worked as a middle school math and science teacher at a low-performing, under-resourced school in East Palo Alto.  Seeing students’ eyes light up as they learned about the natural world was truly an inspiration, and it’s one of the experiences that made me decide to pursue a career in conservation.  I am especially delighted that some of our primary restoration sites, like the Palo Alto Baylands and Bair Island, are located so close to East Palo Alto. This position provides me with an exciting opportunity to re-engage with these students in the area, and to help connect communities to the thriving Bay ecosystem right outside their doorsteps.

It has been so fun and energizing to work with so many people at our public volunteer programs over the past three months, and I look forward to meeting many more amazing volunteers at upcoming work days.  I strongly encourage anyone who has not yet had a chance to volunteer with Save The Bay this season, to come help plant the 35,000 native seedlings that we are planning to install before the end of the rainy season!  Together we can restore the Bay’s tidal marshes, fight against the sixth mass extinction, and preserve the incredible biodiversity of our beloved San Francisco Bay.