Guest Post | Nuestra Señora De La Bahia, Our Mother of the Bay

Nuestra Señora De La Bahia
Nuestra Señora De La Bahia, Our Mother of the Bay, is part of The Tree of Life and Death: Dia De Los Muertos 2013 at the Oakland Museum of California.

My husband, Salvador Cortez Jr., and I were asked by the Oakland Museum of California to create an altar for their exhibit; The Tree of Life and Death: Dia De Los Muertos 2013. Dia De Los Muertos is a sacred holiday when we honor, celebrate and remember our ancestors. It is the time of year spirits are beckoned to the living world by beautiful ofrendas, or offerings placed on an altar. Our ofrenda is titled Nuestra Señora De La Bahia, Our Mother of the Bay.

From OMCA “Housed in the transformed Gallery of California Natural Sciences, installations by guest artists fuse the themes of life, death, and mourning with ecology.”

Immediately when Sal and I were told that the exhibition would be in the Natural Sciences gallery we thought of the goddess Yemaya and the San Francisco Bay.

We wanted to focus on the Bay in our own backyard and what it means living with this amazing body of water. I started researching the Bay and it’s history since colonization. Through Save The Bay, I learned that the Damon Slough was voted one the most polluted waterways in the Bay Area. The Damon Slough is 5 minutes from our house and the creek, which my husband played in as a kid, moves through the foothills and into the slough. The marshlands at the Damon Slough and Martin Luther King Jr. shoreline were once 2,000 acres. Today, due to development, is down to 72 acres. We were horrified to learn of the drastic changes. In our altar, on either side of Yemaya, are charcoal drawings to remind us of our own windows that look over the Bay.

The West African Yoruba goddess Yemaya is a mother goddess of the seas. With our ofrenda, we honor Yemaya and remind ourselves of our responsibility to respect and care for the oceans. How our ancestors taught us. In Yoruba tradition, beads, which adorn Yemaya’s hands and crown, are very important. A bead is not much, but when strung together, become more significant and beautiful. Just like our individual actions, day after day for a lifetime, can add up to so much and go a long way toward preserving the life of our Bay.

I am third generation Alamedan and Sal was born in Oakland. We remember swimming at Alameda beach and the Oakland creeks teaming with life. So much has changed but it is never too late to protect and restore.

– Amy George Cortez

Amy George Cortez and Salvador Cortez Jr. own and operate, Amor Eterno, a tattoo parlor and art gallery in the heart of East Oakland. Amor Eterno is a sanctuary for art, community and love.  They love taking long walks around the Bay with Lily and Jonny, the two best pit bulls on the planet. 

Notes from the Field: Thanks for Cleaning Up the Bay on Coastal Cleanup Day

Coastal Cleanup Day 2012
Thanks to all of our volunteers! Photo: Vivian Reed

A big thanks to all of those who participated in cleaning up the San Francisco Bay as part of California Coastal Cleanup Day!  Save The Bay was one of many organizations that spent the day cleaning up our local waterways. We held cleanups in two places that are in desperate need of some care and attention: the Guadalupe River in San Jose and Damon Creek in Oakland. Check out our Bay Trash Hot Spots website to vote on which local waterway we should cleanup next!

Here are the stats from Coastal Cleanup Day:


70 volunteers

1,800 pounds of trash (over 25 pounds per person!)

San Jose

75 volunteers

900 pounds of trash (12 pounds per person!)

I had a wonderful day helping organize our amazing volunteers who showed up in force on Saturday.  I want to give a special shout out to the awesome students from Apollo High School in San Jose who were very impressive in their effort to clean up Guadalupe River.  It was great to see the community coming together to make their Bay, their home, a more safe, clean, and beautiful place to live.

The giant mound of rescued trash was clear evidence of how much our teamwork and effort paid off.

Coastal Cleanup Trash
Volunteers pulled strange items from our polluted waterways.

The garbage we found was an assortment of things big and small that you might use or see in your daily life: tires, grocery carts, food wrappers, cigarette butts, bottles, Santa Claus Christmas decoration, a baby stroller, and the list goes on.  All of these things found their way from our streets and into our watershed.  Many folks were surprised to hear that people were not just dumping garbage here, but that this waste was traveling great distances from our streets to our storm drains to local creeks and rivers and finally out into our beautiful Bay.

In just 3 hours, we collected enough Styrofoam to fill a 30 gallon bag. I was amazed at how much there was and how easily it broke apart creating an even bigger mess.  The Styrofoam that we collected paled in comparison to what we could not reach. The city of San Jose has been a leader in the fight to reduce trash pollution with a strong plastic bag ban, let’s see them continue this tradition with a similarly strong ban on this equally harmful pollutant!

The San Francisco Bay Area is home to over 7 million people and our actions affect one another even if we don’t realize it.  Trash from our cities is the number one threat to the health of the Bay and surrounding communities. Our efforts during Coastal Cleanup show us that through collective action we can make a difference.  We can all do our part to help reduce the amount of waste we produce, from the simple action of using  reusable bags and containers to cities and counties creating laws that ban single use plastic bags and polystyrene.  We are lucky to live in one of the most diverse and unique places on the planet. Let’s do more to keep it that way!

View photos from our cleanups on Facebook.


Hot Spot or Not? Bay Trash Hot Spots 2012

Hot Spot or Not
Cast your vote for the trashiest waterway around the Bay.

Remember that website Hot or Not? You know, where people upload photos of themselves and users vote whether they are “HOT” or “NOT”. That site was pretty trashy, but we’ve got something even trashier…

Bay Trash Hot Spots 2012: Hot Spot or Not?

Instead of people, you get to vote on the trashiest waterways around the Bay. Here’s the deal:

Each year, Save The Bay releases a list of Bay Trash Hot Spots highlighting the most polluted waterways around the Bay. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, yet toxic trash continues to plague our waterways, flow into the Bay, and out into the ocean. Save The Bay’s five Trash Hot Spots are each located in one of the top ten cities that contribute the most trash to the Bay from storm water systems, and are all in violation of the Clean Water Act.

This year’s Hot Spots are:

• Coyote Creek in San Jose
• Damon Slough in Oakland
• The Hayward shoreline
• Baxter Creek in Richmond
• San Tomas Aquino Creek in Santa Clara

Our fearless Policy Associate Allison Chan took a Tour de Trash  to scope out these sites and snapped photos to share with you. We’ve uploaded the photos into our own ‘Hot Spot or Not’ contest. Now’s the time to vote!

We’ll tally the votes and adopt the winning Hot Spot for cleanups in 2013. Be sure to vote and share with your friends. You may even find a spot that is actually hot…

Cast your vote today!

Notes from the Field: Celebrating National River Cleanup Day

Volunteers spent National River Cleanup Day picking up trash at Damon Slough in Oakland.

On May 19, 2012 over 30 volunteers converged to Damon Slough, a designated Save The Bay trash hotspot, in the Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline in Oakland to get out in the marsh and help out our beloved San Francisco Bay.  Many hands make light work and STB Volunteers proved it again by removing approximately 400lbs of trash in just under 3 hours.  Click the photo to watch a video of the event.

Every day, runoff pollution from our streets and neighborhoods, such as plastic bags, Styrofoam containers, cigarette butts and chip bags, blow into storm drains and flow through creeks, where it discharges into the Bay untreated. This is the single largest source of Bay pollution, and there are many consequences:

  • Twenty-four waterways that flow into the Bay are so filled with trash that they violate the federal Clean Water Act standards
  • Trash kills wildlife, smothers wetlands and spoils water quality
  • Up to 70% of the toxics in the San Francisco Bay like oil, sewage, mercury, pharmaceuticals and e-waste come from polluted runoff
  • Save The Bay estimates that one million bags end up in the Bay every year

Despite all these daunting facts and numbers, there is hope!

Our dynamic wetlands can sequester a lot of these pollutants, break down some over time and physically capture litter allowing inspired volunteers a chance to right our wrongs and clean up our mess.  The immediate impact is profound after volunteer efforts like those at Damon Slough.  Where plastic trash once glistened in the sun, the water and Pickleweed are clearly visible after the hard work of our volunteers.  It’s not the most glamorous work, but STB volunteers come and leave with smiles, knowing we can make a positive difference one slough at a time.

Click here to learn more about preventing trash from entering our waterways in the first place.

Marc Siedel, Restoration Projects Team Leader

Wonky Wednesday: Gearing Up for a Clean-Up at Oakland’s Damon Slough

Trash washed up along the shoreline of Damon Slough

Here at Save The Bay, we have been excitedly planning our clean-up at Damon Slough this Saturday. Located in Oakland’s Martin Luther King Jr. Shoreline, Damon Slough was the winner of our annual Bay Trash Hot Spots contest in 2011, beating out other trash-clogged waterways like San Jose’s Guadalupe River and Pulgas Creek in San Mateo County.

Those who visit this piece of the East Bay shoreline know that Damon Slough needs all the help it can get. This waterway is a challenging but hardly unique Bay Area landmark. With litter from the nearby Oakland Coliseum complex, a flea market and surrounding streets draining into this waterway, this sensitive slough is often inundated with trash.

All around our heavily built-out urban landscape, there are channelized and buried creeks and sloughs, where historically water would flow from the hills towards San Francisco Bay. Working at Save The Bay, I have become much more attuned to these often obscure yet interesting parts of our region’s neglected geography. The Oakland Museum of California has a great Creek Mapping Project that can help you find the buried creek in your neighborhood.

Here are some of the things we all can do to help reduce pollution in the Bay:

  • Reduce the amount of trash we generate and make sure our trash doesn’t end up in the Bay. Switch to reusable bags, recycle wherever possible and compost.
  • Advocate for tougher policies and regulations to reduce trash flowing to the Bay. Sign Save The Bay’s online petition calling on Bay Area mayors and city councils to pass legislation to target commonly littered items such as single-use bags and Styrofoam food ware.
  • Volunteer for one of Save The Bay’s monthly cleanup and restoration events.

– Stephen Knight, Political Director