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.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

Monitoring Marshes to Managing their Restoration: Welcome Katy Zaremba

Katy Zaremba has joined Save The Bay as our new Habitat Restoration Program Manager. She is pictured here at Eden Landing Ecological Reserve Whales Tail South Marsh in Winter 2012.
Katy Zaremba has joined Save The Bay as the new Habitat Restoration Program Manager. She is pictured here at Eden Landing Ecological Reserve Whales Tail South Marsh in Winter 2012.

My introduction to estuarine and wetland conservation began in high school while slithering on my belly through cordgrass marshes on the mudflats, counting fiddler crabs while participating in an environmental education program on the Chesapeake Bay.

It was there that I gained an appreciation for estuarine environments, and learned the ecological value of estuarine and wetland habitats, and the need for conservation and stewardship of these unique habitats.

I am so pleased to have the opportunity to join Save The Bay as their new Restoration Program Manager. It is an honor to follow in the footsteps of environmental conservation heroines Esther Gulick, Sylvia McLaughlin, and Kay Kerr who created a lasting legacy for San Francisco Bay. I believe that my new position with Save The Bay perfectly marries my early career experience in environmental education and environmental advocacy, with my years of professional work as an estuarine ecologist, conservation biologist and wetland restoration practitioner on the San Francisco Bay.

Katy is pictured here during an outreach program on extent of Bay Invasion in 2004
Katy is pictured here during an outreach program on the extent of Bay Invasion in 2004.

The focus of my early career was in coastal and marine ecology, environmental education and volunteer coordination. After some years working on the coast and in the Bay as an educator, I decided to further my own education and pursue my interests in wetland and estuarine ecology and habitat conservation in graduate school.

When deciding on the focus of my graduate school studies, the San Francisco Estuary had been declared as one of the most invaded estuaries in the nation. Invasive non-native species in the Bay were a growing threat to the health of the Bay ecosystem. Given my passion for protecting the coastal and estuarine ecosystems that I cherished, my keen interest to expand on my knowledge and my life goal to actively contribute to the cause of conserving and restoring the San Francisco Bay, I developed a graduate school research project that involved monitoring the spread and control of invasive non-native cordgrass (Spartina spp.) into a newly-opened restoration site.

My graduate research project evolved into a career as the Monitoring Program Manager and eventually the Restoration Program Manager with the Invasive Spartina Project.  I started a field-based monitoring program, surveying the extent of San Francisco Bay and the outer coast marshes for five species of non-native cordgrass. The monitoring program introduced me to an incredible network of marshes around the Bay.  I surveyed by foot, by bike, by kayak and boat. I learned how to access shoreline and coordinated with land owners and introduced them to the threat of invasive cordgrass.

Katy enjoys contributing and volunteering right here in her own backyard, or watershed, and working with local conservationists.

My years surveying the Bay provided me with many unique experiences and adventures. I surveyed the expansive strip marshes and mudflats of San Pablo Bay National Wildlife. I got to know how to best access the marshes around the Bay, making the most of the miles of shoreline trails provided by numerous landowners including East Bay Regional Parks where I surveyed miles of shoreline from Pt. Pinole to Hayward. It was always a highlight when I surveyed by kayak. I was fully cognizant of the special opportunity I had to kayak the sloughs in and around Bair and Greco Islands. Even driving access was an adventure as I learned to navigate driving the levees in and around the evolving Eden Landing Ecological Reserve and South Bay Salt Pond Complex.

In the process of surveying the Bay, developing the ISP Monitoring and Restoration Programs, I worked and collaborated with remarkable community of land owners, managers, stakeholders, researchers, environmental advocates and regulators. I built an incredible network of colleagues and friends, all of whom were committed to the cause of protecting and restoring the health of the San Francisco Bay Estuary. I take great pride in having the opportunity to work with such an incredibly committed community of conservationists here in the Bay Area.

I’ve always enjoyed contributing and volunteering in my own backyard, or watershed, working with local conservationists. With the intention of working locally to acquire, protect and restore local ecologically significant wetland habitat, I joined the Board of the Bowen Island Conservancy while living in British Columbia, and then Marin Audubon Society when I returned to the Bay Area.

As the Save The Bay Restoration Program Manager I am so pleased to be able to continue to collaborate and work with existing partners, wetland restoration practitioners, and to join the committed team of Bay and wetland stewards, environmental educators, advocates and policy makers at Save The Bay.

The Value of Native Plants

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Native plants evolved to live with the local climate, soil types, and wildlife and are crucial to establishing and maintaining a healthy San Francisco Bay. Save The Bay’s on-the-ground wetland restoration projects aim to re-establish native plants in the transition zone, creating important buffer areas adjacent to tidal marshes.

There are many benefits to native plants. For instance, native plants generally require less water than non-native plants and are often drought tolerant. Native plants attract and sustain native wildlife and help maintain the landscape by preventing erosion and enriching the soil.

The Bay Area is home to around 400 native plant species and over 70 non-native, invasive species. Invasive plants are both non-native and able to grow on many sites, spreading quickly and disrupting plant communities. Invasives degrade wildlife habitat and disrupt ecosystem functions. They are the second greatest threat to endangered species, after habitat destruction.

Our restoration staff works to remove invasive species from the Bay’s marshes and wetlands, planting native plants along these sites. Meet some of the native plants that are planted at our restoration sites along the Bay.

California Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) is the most important native source of honey in California. Our local bees love this plant, which is native to the Bay Area and can be found above the high tide line. It is often found around the Bay growing on rocky, dry slopes in a variety of plant communities. This species is extremely drought tolerant. CA buckwheat can grow to be a relatively large shrub, providing cover for wildlife and crowding out encroaching invasive species.

Fleshy Jaumea (Jaumea carnosa) can be found in the low zone of the marsh right by the Bay. These native plants form thick mats along the shoreline, which helps hold soil together and prevent erosion. Fleshy jaumea is in the Sunflower family, which is evident when you examine the flowers closely. Jaumea is a halophyte, meaning that it is a plant that is very salt tolerant and is commonly found in areas of high salinity.

Blue Eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium bellum) blooms from March to July and can be found in grassland, foothill woodland, and sage scrub around the Bay Area. Song sparrows, house finches and other songbirds eat the seeds of this native plant. It is relatively common but can be hard to identify when not in bloom. It is actually not a grass, but is in the same family as Iris.

Sticky Monkey Flower (Mimulus aurantiacus) typically bloom from mid-spring into mid-summer and can be found above the high tide line. Hummingbirds and moths love the sweet nectar that these tube-like flowers hold. Mimulus is latin for comic or mime, perhaps named for the funny face of the flower. Sticky monkey flower are found throughout California, southern Oregon, and Baja California in a variety of plant communities.

California Aster (Symphyotrichum chilense) is an important plant for the larvae of the Field Crescent and Northern Checkerspot butterflies. Asters are late bloomers, blooming as late as November. This late flowering period is important for insects who still need nectar late in the season. California aster is native to California and is found only slightly outside of California’s borders. It is rhizomatous, meaning that it can propagate itself through underground stems and is often found in large clumps or colonies. CA aster is a perennial plant. It grows and blooms during spring and summer and dies back every autumn and winter, returning again in the springtime.

Learn more about the native plants that help restore our Bay shoreline. Sign up to volunteer.

What Is Life Without Transition? Why Estuarine-Terrestrial Transition Zones Matter

transition zone restoration
Save The Bay staff and volunteers are restoring this slope adjacent to a newly restored wetland at the Eden Landing Ecological Reserve.

The majority of Bay Area residents live and work within a half mile from the Bay, which makes the San Francisco Estuary one of the most urbanized estuaries in the world. Humans have valued the Bay for various ecosystem services throughout history and have modified the Bay to take advantage of some of those services. For example, humans have diked large areas of the Bay for commercial salt production and duck hunting, and have built trails close to the Bay so that they can enjoy the cultural services that the Bay provides. They have also hampered some of those services by filling and paving over large areas of the Bay to build urban infrastructure, and until the 1960’s, used the Bay as a place to dispose of garbage and sewage. It has only been the last several decades that the general public began to realize the importance of the natural ecosystem services the SF Bay provides.

San Francisco Bay was once ringed by healthy wetland habitats. Those wetlands, in many cases, gradually transitioned from tidal wetlands to upland terrestrial habitat. Those areas of gradual transition would often extend for a mile or more, comprising large expanses of native grasses and salt tolerant plants utilized by abundant wildlife populations. Over time, those transition areas have been squeezed between urban infrastructure and the Bay. These areas at the marsh-upland interface, that we call estuarine-terrestrial transition zones, are important because they provide important and unique ecosystem functions and services. Faced with climate change, transition zones can provide important ecosystem services, including buffering hazards associated with sea level rise such as flooding and erosion, and providing a place for wetlands to migrate inland. In addition, the transition zone provides nutrient cycling, filtration of pollutants from urban runoff, and support for biological diversity.

Save The Bay focuses its restoration effort on creating functional transition zone habitat in areas that lack transition zones. Using a carefully selected site-specific plant palette, we restore transition zone vegetation in areas such as the Eden Landing Ecological Reserve (ELER) in Hayward adjacent to recently restored salt ponds where transition zone habitat is lacking. Several of these former salt ponds are being breached to restore natural tidal flow as part of the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration (SBSPR) Project. Save The Bay has been working with the SBSPR Project at the ELER to vegetate the slopes adjacent to these ponds in order to provide functions such as high tide refuge and cover to avoid predation for marsh animals during high tides. Sign up for a volunteer program and join Save The Bay’s Habitat Restoration Team to learn more about functional transition zone habitat and important ecosystem services at our sites throughout San Francisco Bay.

Watch this PBS NewsHour clip about the importance of restoring transition zones for wildlife.