Mice and Marshes: Protecting the Bay I Love

Arrowhead Marsh, taken by Jim Moyers
Arrowhead Marsh, taken by Jim Moyers

I have loved salt marshes ever since I first stepped into one during a college wetlands class in Washington. I breathed in earthy scents. I felt mud squish beneath my boots. I watched birds fly low over the water. Now, the Bay wetlands nourish my spirit, and I am truly grateful they are the place I call home.

As the Habitat Restoration Director at Save The Bay, I am proud that my work leading volunteer and education programs can directly benefit nearby wildlife. Our efforts provide critical habitat for endangered species like the salt marsh harvest mouse. But we never lose sight of the big picture.

Restoration staff and volunteers working on the Oro Loma Project
Restoration staff and volunteers working on the Oro Loma Project

Recently, we collaborated with other scientists on the Oro Loma Horizontal Levee Project – an innovative levee that mimics wetland habitats. Our expert restoration team joined more than 5,000 Save The Bay volunteers to construct the site’s giant outdoor nursery and plant more than 70,000 native seedlings.

The potential benefits are profound, since wetland marshes act like sponges, soaking up water as it rises. If replicated, this horizontal levee model could provide extensive flood protection and create thousands of acres of habitat around San Francisco Bay.

Right now, our Bay faces a triple threat of pollution, sea-level rise and habitat loss. Scientists estimate it needs 100,000 acres of wetlands to be healthy and sustainable. Today, only 40,000 acres exist.

With help from our generous supporters, we can continue working with partners to make significant progress toward that 100,000 acre mark.

The Bay is the heart of my home. Together, we can protect this beautiful resource and all that it offers diverse communities, vibrant plants, and countless animals.

With sincere thanks,

Donna Ball
Habitat Restoration Director

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.

 

Top 5 Holiday Activities around the Bay

I love being home for the holidays. Being back in the Bay means walking my favorite trails, shopping downtown and catching up with old friends. I have many traditions around the holidays with my family and friends. My favorite tradition is meeting up with my friends from high school at our favorite café to grab some warm drinks and walk along Ocean Beach. Spending time with family and friends is a huge part of the holiday season. This year we hope you include the Bay in some of your holiday traditions. These are some of our favorite ways to celebrate the holidays on the Bay in style.

Embarcader in SF_4.8.15_Hai Nguyen_twt

  1. Spend time outside. Celebrate the winter solstice on Wednesday, Dec. 21 by stretching your legs and spending time outdoors. Enjoy a Bay view from the nearly 350 miles of the San Francisco Bay Trail or challenge your friends to hike to the top of Mission Peak in Fremont. Your legs will be burning but you’ll have a beautiful view of the Bay to enjoy while you catch your breath.
  2. See the Bay Lights. Everyone loves to admire the neighborhood Christmas lights, but this year take it a step further and enjoy the beautiful Bay Lights on the Bay Bridge. Grab a cup of hot cocoa and stroll along the Embarcadero to enjoy the amazing view of the lights over the Bay.
  3. River Otter Snow Day. We may not get snow days in the Bay Area but the river otters at the Aquarium by the Bay in San Francisco are getting a fresh snow day every Wednesday this month. Both kids and adults love to watch the cute otters as they slip and slide around in the snow. See the otters play in fresh snow every Wednesday from Dec. 7 to Dec. 28.
  4. Lighted Boat Parade. The lighted boat parade is an annual tradition put on by the Fisherman’s Warf Community Benefit District and the St. Francis Yacht Club. It started in 1994 and is the oldest and largest lighted holiday boat parade on San Francisco Bay. The best viewing spots are at Aquatic Park, Pier 39, Marina Green and Crissy Field in San Francisco. The parade takes place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 16.
  5. Water sleigh ride on Lake Merritt. Enjoy a festive light-filled cruise around Lake Merritt in Oakland, complete with caroling and hot cider. Water sleigh rides will start at 6 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, from Friday, Dec. 2 to Friday, Dec 23. Rides are $6 per person.

I hope you all get a chance to enjoy the Bay this holiday season and remember to take public transportation or carpool in an effort to help reduce the amount of pollution that flows into our Bay. Happy Holidays!

5 Great Spots to Learn About SF Bay

As the mom of an inquisitive 7 year old, I’m always looking for fun and beautiful places for my family to learn more about San Francisco Bay.  Here are 5 of my favorite places to learn, play and explore:

  1. Exploratorium: Science-based learning is a huge part of our mission here at Save The Bay.  And the Exploratorium located at Pier 15 in San Francisco shares that value. With hundreds of exhibits to explore and engage with, The Exploratorium has many Bay-related exhibits. Check out the Bay Observation Terrace on the upper level where you can uncover the history, geography and ecology of the Bay Area.  Plus, walk right outside and enjoy the beautiful vistas of San Francisco Bay.

    Exploratorium photo, save the bay staff
    The Exploratorium’s waterfront location offers stunning Bay views. Photo: Save The Bay staff
  2. CuriOdyssey: If learning about wildlife interest you, CuriOdyssey has many exhibits dedicated to animals that call San Francisco Bay Area home including the river otter and the black crowned night heron. Walk through a 4,000-square-foot aviary and see if you can spot a snowy egret or a golden eagle.

    3453-2 Snowy Egret Arrowhead Marsh
    Snowy Egret at Arrowhead Marsh in Oakland. Photo: Rick Lewis
  3. Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge: Visit the nation’s first urban national wildlife refuge on the southern end of San Francisco Bay in Fremont. Don Edwards NWR has 30,000 acres that host millions of migratory birds and endangered species. There are numerous recreation activities to choose from including wildlife viewing and interpretive walks. If you are lucky, you might spot two endangered species endemic to San Francisco Bay: the Ridgway’s rail and the salt marsh harvest mouse.

    Newark Slough, Photo: Paul Crockett
    Newark Slough, Don Edwards NWR Photo: Paul Crockett
  4. Aquarium of the Bay: Committed to protecting and restoring San Francisco Bay, the Aquarium of the Bay is a great place to discover more about marine animals. Get up close to some of the native shark species that call the Bay home like the leopard shark and the sevengill shark. Check out these fun “shark-tivities” including feeding the sharks, a shark touch pool and an exciting walk through the underwater tunnel.

    sevengillshark
    The Broadnose Sevengill Shark is one of six shark species that live in San Francisco Bay.Photo: Monterey Bay Aquarium
  5. Bay Area Discovery Museum: With expansive views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito is a great way to play and learn about the Bay.  Play outdoors and feel the rush of cold-water tide pools, climb around iconic Bay Area landmarks or be a ship captain in Lookout Cove. Play indoors in Bay Hall with boats, ships and a Fisherman’s Wharf model.  This is a fun destination to be inspired by the Bay’s beauty and let your imagination run wild.

    Golden Gate Bridge at Sunset - Photo: Jill Zwicky
    View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Cavillo Point. Photo: Jill Zwicky

These 5 great spots to learn about SF Bay, have my 7 year old’s seal of approval!

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Looking for more ways to celebrate and enjoy the beauty of our Bay? Check out top spots to celebrate the bay, curated by our friends at Yelp!