Guest Blog | Rediscovering the Beauty and Fragility of the SF Bay from Above

Bay Area San Francisco Bay Flight Lighthawk
An aerial view of Arrowhead Marsh during the Lighthawk flight, by Janine Kraus

The diversity of the San Francisco Bay is most visible from an aerial view – from the South Bay salt ponds to the East Bay’s Arrowhead Marsh to the Sonoma Baylands. The Bay is so many things – wildlife preserve, transportation route, tranquil setting for millions of residents. Yet it is also a place threatened by pollution, rising sea levels, and development. Many do not know that one third of the San Francisco Bay had been filled in by the time Save The Bay was founded in 1961. Currently, only five percent of the Bay’s original wetlands remain.

Recently, I took flight in a small four-seater plane with Save The Bay’s CEO David Lewis and Janine Kraus to see first-hand the progress they have made in protecting our region’s most valuable asset. This flight was made possible by LightHawk, an organization that donates plane flights to nonprofits. Circling the bay from above gave me a new perspective on the beauty of our bay and the issues that continue to threaten it.

In the past 15 years, Philanthropic Ventures Foundation’s donors have provided more than $1 million in funding to Save The Bay to create a healthier bay. Their relentless conservation efforts have ensured that more than 44,000 acres of wetlands have been restored or are planning to be restored through a three-pronged approach that includes preventing development, improving water quality, and re-establishing tidal marsh.

It is our right as Bay Area residents to have a clean and healthy bay that can be enjoyed by all, and we are indebted to Save The Bay for its work over the years to fight for that right.

This was originally posted by Ashley Murphy on Philanthropic Ventures Foundation‘s blog. Read it here.  Aerial support provided by Lighthawk.

Deskside with David | Bird’s-eye View of the Bay

San Francisco Bay aerial view
The Bay defines our region, touching every aspect of our lives.

More than 14 years after returning to my native Bay Area, I’m still in awe of the Bay and its beauty.  For the last year, I’ve had a sweeping Bay view from my office in downtown Oakland, and I’m blessed with a view of the Golden Gate from my home in the Berkeley Hills.  But I recently got a new perspective on the Bay – from several thousand feet up, in a small plane.

We’ve all jetted in and out of the region’s major airports, glimpsing a few tiny landmarks through the window.  But circling the Bay Area from just a few thousand feet up shows just how much it defines our region, touching every aspect of our lives.  The Bay affects how we commute and how we play, where we live and work, the microclimates of our weather and the resilience of our economy.

From the Lighthawk 4-seater piloted by Bill Rush I also saw spread out beneath me the stunning impact of Save The Bay’s work over the last 50 years, and the enormous opportunities before us.  The necklace of shoreline parks linked by hundreds of miles of Bay Trail, the largest urban wildlife refuge in the nation, huge expanses of open water and marshes at the mouths of creeks – these exist because our movement stopped the Bay from being filled to just the width of a narrow river.

The thriving tidal marshes around the Palo Alto airport where we took off were slated to be dug up and paved over for marina homes, a hotel and conference center when I grew up a mile away in the 1960s.  Then courageous community leaders like Byron Sher and Florence LaRiviere stopped those plans and now Palo Alto Baylands is prime recreational open space, a magnet for birders, walkers and bikers.

Just north lie the restorable salt ponds directly threatened with development by Cargill, 1,400 acres in Redwood City where salt-making has ceased and the company proposed building 12,000 homes for 30,000 people.  From the air you can see this is not a site for development – far from transit, adjacent to the industrial uses of the Port of Redwood City.  You can also see that restoration here would close a habitat gap and be a boon for Bay endangered species.

Ducking in and out of fog as we flew north to Marin and Napa counties, we saw the huge expanse of hay fields and salt ponds that once were lush tidal marsh before they were diked for other uses over a century ago, and are now being returned to tidal marsh.   In all, 35,000 acres have been acquired and protected for this purpose – with proper funding they can nearly double this habitat so important to the Bay’s health.  Returning to the airport we circled the largest wetland restoration project on the west coast, which is turning the South Bay Salt Ponds back from brown and red, to green and blue.

A flight like this also underscores how most people live within a few miles of beautiful Bay shoreline parks and beaches – but how few use them.  Crissy Field and Alcatraz get lots of visitors, but have you ever tried Coyote Point, McLaughlin Eastshore State Park, China Camp, Point Pinole, Hayward Regional Shoreline or Alviso Marina Park?

The sight of the Bay is re-energizing – from my office window or from a plane, but especially from a boat or the shoreline.  I urge you to get out and enjoy the Bay this fall.  Save The Bay can show you a new part of the shoreline when you sign up to help us restore Bay habitat – that way you can enjoy the Bay’s beauty and also give back to the resource that gives us so much.

View more photos of the flight on Facebook.

Weekly Roundup October 19, 2012

weekly roundupThis week, the Clean Water Act celebrates 40 years. Former Save The Bay Executive Director Barry Nelson applauds its impact on the Bay on NRDC’s blog. We continue to advocate for strong policies to keep trash out of the Bay. Our current Executive Director David Lewis writes about the effectiveness of plastic bag bans. KALW interviews SF Environment Department Chief Melanie Nutter about the city’s policies and goals. San Mateo County supervisors vote on banning plastic bags next week, providing 24 cities with an opportunity to jump on the “ban wagon”. The UN released a report emphasizing the economic importance of wetlands worldwide. As we know, wetlands protect communities from floods and sea level rise, a growing concern for our region. KQED reporter Molly Samuel’s aerial photos provide compelling perspective on sea level rise around the Bay. Finally, oysters are making a comeback to the Bay.

NRDC Switchboard 10/18/2012
A Transformed San Francisco Bay – The Legacy of the Clean Water Act
It’s easy to see the Clean Water Act as an abstraction. I mean, who isn’t for clean water? And it’s easy to overlook how this visionary bill touches us every day. From our kitchen faucets to a summer day at a beach, the Clean Water Act improves the lives of all Americans. Today is the 40th anniversary of the Act, making this an appropriate moment to reflect on progress made and challenges remaining.

Take Part 10/18/2012
Op-Ed: Plastic Bag Bans Work to Curb Pollution
Plastic bag bans combined with fees for paper bags are potent tools for reducing plastic trash.

KALW 10/15/2012
Conversation with SF Environment Department chief Melanie Nutter
City Visions speaks with Melanie Nutter, head of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment. Hear about the Department’s current initiatives — from the bag ban to climate change adaptation measures to new rules for nail salons — and how they could affect you and influence statewide policy.
Listen here >>

Palo Alto Daily News 10/18/2012
If San Mateo County supervisors approve plastic bags ban Tuesday, 24 cities may follow
San Mateo County supervisors on Tuesday will consider banning plastic carryout bags in unincorporated communities, a move that could spur as many as two dozen Peninsula cities to follow its lead.

UN News Centre 10/16/2012
Policies to protect wetlands necessary for sustainable economies – UN-backed report
Governments must recognize the vital economic and environmental role that wetlands play in supporting human life and biodiversity, according to a United Nations-backed report released today, which also stresses that their protection is essential for countries to transition into resource-efficient and sustainable economies.

Palo Alto Patch 10/12/2012
Rising sea level to have detrimental impact on Bay Area coast
Bay Area cities are attempting to adapt and innovate local infrastructure in order to prepare for the consequences of climate change.

KQED Quest 10/5/2012
Slideshow: An Early Fall Flight Around the Bay
Last week I went on an aerial tour of the San Francisco Bay. David Lewis, the executive director of Save the Bay, narrated. Bill Rush, a volunteer pilot with LightHawk, flew the plane. We saw tidal marsh and salt ponds; the cities, highways and industry that ring the Bay; and a good amount of fog.
View photos and

Richmond Confidential 10/15/2012
Oysters in for a comeback at Point Pinole
Olympia oysters, whose slender, two-inch shells can be found in historic Native American sites across the Bay Area, are believed to thrive in the shallow water below the tide. But more than a century after nearly disappearing, the Olys could make a comeback at Point Pinole.