5 Reasons Why Our Bay Wetlands Are Important

Photo by: Judy Irving

Happy World Wetlands Day!

San Francisco Bay was dubbed a Wetland of International Importance in 2013 under an international conservation treaty called the Ramsar Convention.

Wetlands serve vital functions, but are also at risk of destruction. In fact, over 64% of the world’s wetlands have been destroyed since 1900. Fortunately, local activists around the world and here in the Bay Area have been working to protect and restore wetlands for future generations.

Often referred to as the “lungs of the Bay,” here are 5 reasons why our Bay wetlands are important.

1. Wetlands help purify and counterbalance the human effect on water quality.    

Wetlands trap polluted runoff before toxins can reach open Bay water. This natural filtering process actually purifies the waters of the Bay.

Photo by: Vivian Reed

2. Wetlands help curb global warming and protect communities from sea level rise.

Greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, released into the atmosphere are captured, stored, and filtered by our wetlands.

Traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge
Photo by: Vivian Reed

Healthy wetlands also act as sponges capable of soaking up large quantities of water from rain storms and high tides, including King Tides.

King Tides nearly flood this Interstate 880 frontage road by the Oakland Coliseum around 10:30 am.

King Tides nearly flood this Interstate 880 frontage road by the Oakland Coliseum. Photo by: Vivian Reed
Photo by: Vivian Reed

The tall pillars supporting the same frontage road by the Oakland Coliseum are revealed during low tide around 5:30 pm.

Tall pillars supporting the same frontage road by the Oakland Coliseum are revealed during low tide. Photo by: Vivian Reed
Photo by: Vivian Reed

3. Wetlands provide habitat for endangered species.

Healthy tidal marshes provide food and shelter from predators for a number of endangered and threatened species.

San Francisco Bay’s Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse is the tiniest endangered species.

The Ridgway’s Rail is one of the Bay’s endangered species that depends on healthy wetlands to survive.

California Clapper Rail
Photo by: Dan Sullivan.

They also offer migratory animals a place to rest and reproduce along the Pacific Flyway.

A pair of Canada Geese rest along the Bay shoreline during their migration across North America.

Photo by: Vivian Reed

4. Our wetlands are beautiful areas of open space around the highly urbanized Bay Area that provide residents with many recreational opportunities.  

Like this:

In the mid 2000s, Save The Bay’s Canoes In Sloughs (pronounced “slews”) program offered Bay Area students a unique way to learn about and have fun on the Bay.

Canoes in the Sloughs
Photo by: Judy Irving

Or this:

A bicyclist admires the Bay views as he pedals along the Bay Trail.

Bike rider on the Bay Trail
Photo by: Vivian Reed

Or even this:

A family of three enjoy an afternoon stroll at Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Photo by: Vivian Reed

5. The Bay’s wetlands support our local economy by providing jobs in shipping, tourism, fishing, recreation, and education. 

A large cargo ship travels underneath the Bay Bridge toward the Port of Oakland.

Photo by: Dan Sullivan

We all need a healthy SF Bay. 7 Million Bay Area resides, 400 native species, our economy, and quality of life depend on it . Wetlands are vital to the health of wildlife and humans everywhere.

Help us restore and protect our wetlands by signing up for our volunteering programs today!

Restoration volunteers plant native seedlings into the ground
Photo by: Vivian Reed











Great news! Thanks to a groundswell of support, Bay Area voters will now have a chance to vote for a Clean and Healthy Bay this June. This is the greatest opportunity in a generation to restore our Bay for people, wildlife, and our economy. Are you in?

Take Action Now

The Case for Swift Action on Wetland Restoration

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently released its fifth Climate Change Assessment Report. The report says restoring shoreline areas and taking other ecosystem-based adaptation steps can help coastal communities prepare for climate change, and also provide mitigation benefits. See our previous blog on the subject.


We need to act quickly because the effects of climate change are already being felt, as detailed in a recently released National Climate Assessment by the federal government.

Though wetland restoration will not be the only tool in our kit to prepare our communities for climate change, there is virtually no downside to performing this restoration now, and a tremendous potential upside on the mitigation front. New studies are proving the ability of wetlands to sequester carbon in larger amounts than previously thought.

The good news is that wetland restoration is proceeding at a faster pace around the Bay than ever before, while a potential ballot measure by the Bay Restoration Authority in November could help our region start new projects that await funding and finish projects in progress now.

Here’s a status update on several prominent planned and in progress restoration projects that hold the greatest potential to protect communities from sea level rise and flooding caused by climate change:

Bair Island – Since being saved from development in the 1990’s, Bair Island has been a focal point of restoration in San Francisco Bay. Last spring, a pedestrian bridge was installed to connect Inner Bair with Uccelli Blvd, and project managers expect to formally complete restoration of Bair Island’s 3,000 acres this fall. Bair Island is in Redwood City, a low-lying city of 79,000 people. Its restoration will be an important part of Redwood City’s readiness for sea level rise.

Hamilton Field – A model for reuse, Hamilton Field was once a bustling military base along the Marin County shoreline. Earlier this spring, the decade-long restoration project was completed, returning this site to its natural state. Hamilton is north of San Rafael and adjacent to Bell Marin Keys, a community of 700 homes that sits 10 feet or less above sea level.

Cullinan Ranch – Cullinan Ranch’s 1,500 acres of restorable habitat along Hwy 37 were saved from development in the 1980s. Situated north of the City of Vallejo, this site will provide much needed habitat while continuing to protect the highway from flooding and sea level rise.

Eden Landing – The 1,000+ acres of Eden Landing mix the remnants of industrial salt manufacturing with restoration to create 50 nesting islands for migratory shorebirds including the endangered California clapper rail. Public access trails are slated to open in 2015. Eden Landing is situated near the San Mateo Bridge.

Ravenswood Ponds – Adjacent to the Facebook campus at the foot of the Dumbarton Bridge in an area prone to flooding, Ravenswood is one of the most visible interactions between the Bay and the built environment. Major restoration was completed in 2010, but volunteers continue to work on restoring native plants to the site.

King Tides an Opportunity to Educate about Sea Level Rise

King Tides are "a glimpse into the future," of sea level rise, say experts. Click above to see NBC News' story on the first set of King Tides this season.
King Tides are “a glimpse into the future,” of sea level rise, say experts. Click above to see NBC News’ story on the first set of King Tides this season.

The highest tides of the year are back in the Bay Area. With sea levels peaking over 11 feet in some areas of the Bay – flooding roadways, freeway onramps and more – the King Tides, which we will experience at least six days this winter, have become an annual reminder of our need to prepare for the serious impacts facing us with sea level rise. (Click here to read more about what produces King Tides)

If you ask scientists and policy experts about sea level rise planning, one of the most difficult challenges we face is that despite the enormous impacts sea level rise will have on the Bay Area (over $50 billion in property and infrastructure is at risk, according to the Pacific Institute), the issue is still not universally seen as an immediate and pressing threat for many policymakers. There is also a lack of strong regulations and guidance at the statewide and regional levels for local jurisdictions to address these issues. This highlights the need for voters to understand and voice their concerns about sea level rise.

A recent poll (full results here) by the Public Policy Institute of California showed that most Californians (63%) recognize that the impacts of climate change are already being felt and three-in-four (75%) support “steps to counter the effect of global warming right away,” yet only 28% of Bay Area residents said they were “very concerned” about the impacts of flooding as a result of global warming. It’s important to note, however, that these numbers were much higher for communities at greater risk of flooding, due to neighborhoods being built in flood zones – African Americans and Latinos were nearly twice as likely (40% and 42%, respectively) to be “very concerned” about the risk of flooding.

While you can mine the data further to see that a majority (56%) of California voters are either “somewhat concerned” or “very concerned” about increased flooding, the lower poll numbers compared to other global warming impacts (like wildfires) suggest that we still have a need to educate residents – and particularly policymakers – about the threats to the Bay Area from sea level rise, and how flooding will impact the places that we care about: our homes, our schools, and our communities.

You will be seeing more from Save The Bay on this subject in the next month, but in the meantime, here’s a few highlights of the impacts of sea level rise to keep in mind:

Highlights of Potential Impacts to the Bay Area from Sea Level Rise

  • Nearly 100 schools and healthcare facilities are threatened
  • 1,780 miles of roads and highways could be underwater
  • 270,000 renters and homeowners could be displaced or otherwise impacted
  • Over 3,000 acres of wetlands could be lost
  • Major infrastructure – including SFO International Airport, Oakland International Airport, the San Mateo and Dumbarton Bridges would be seriously affected, as could dozens of power plants and sewage treatment plants
  • Dozens of toxic sites listed as hazardous by the EPA could be inundated, posing a risk to Bay water quality and wildlife

Source: The Impacts of Sea Level Rise on the San Francisco Bay, Pacific Institute 2012. These numbers are reflective of a 55” rise in sea levels by 2100.


To learn more about the King Tides, as well as submit and view photos of areas near you that have been impacted, visit the California King Tides Initiative at www.californiakingtides.org


Weekly Roundup | August 23, 2013

Check out this week’s Weekly Roundup for breaking news affecting San Francisco Bay. newspaper

New York Times 8/20/13
Climate Panel Cites Near Certainty on Warming
An international panel of scientists has found with near certainty that human activity is the cause of most of the temperature increases of recent decades, and warns that sea levels could conceivably rise by more than three feet by the end of the century if emissions continue at a runaway pace.
Read more>>

Mother Nature Network 8/19/13
Rare sea turtles eating plastic at record rate
Sea turtles around the world are eating plastic at an unprecedented pace, a new study reveals, with some species downing twice as much as they did 25 years ago. This indigestible, potentially fatal diet is especially popular among young turtles in the open ocean, deepening concerns about the ancient animals’ long-term outlook.
Read more>>

Mercury News 8/20/13
Los Gatos Plastic Bag Ban Approved by Town
The Los Gatos Town Council approved a ban on single use plastic bags at its meeting Monday night. The ban takes affect Feb. 3, 2014. At that time, grocery stores and most other retailers will begin selling recycled paper bags for 10 cents apiece. However, the aim of the ordinance is to encourage shoppers to bring their own reusable bags to stores.
Read more>>

SF Gate 8/20/13
Expert brings public health into climate change
Temperatures are intensifying. Sea levels are climbing. Wildfires are spreading. None of this is news to Dr. Linda Rudolph, a Bay Area expert on climate change. What worries her most, however, are the human health disasters that global warming may end up unleashing. While California, along with the rest of the world, may be years away from feeling the full brunt of global warming, signs already point to potential consequences for the environment and, subsequently, humans.
Read more>>

SF Gate 8/21/13
Wildlife Sightings to Crown Summer: 18 Picture Gallery
Summer is about to end for a lot of people, but how could a summer be complete without seeing a bear? Or an elk, bald eagle and other wildlife? Seeing California’s major wildlife is not a random event; you can leave right now and likely find what you are looking for by the weekend. Along the way, you might have additional chance sightings, such as bobcat, fox, raccoons and coyotes, or more elusive wildlife such as porcupine, mink, pine martens and badgers.
Read more>>

Marin News 8/20/13
Stinson Beach closed to swimming after great white shark spotted near beached whale
Stinson Beach will be closed to swimmers and others who like to get into the water until Sunday after a 10- to 15-foot great white shark was seen near the area where a fin whale beached itself. Golden Gate National Recreation Area officials closed the beach’s waters after the shark was spotted by a lifeguard in the surf line at about 3 p.m. Monday. The shark continued to be seen until 5 p.m.
Read more>>