By

Alastair Bland
About the author

A native to San Francisco, Alastair Bland is a freelance journalist who writes about water policy in California, rivers and salmon, marine conservation and climate change. His work has appeared at NPR.org, Smithsonian.com, Yale Environment 360 and News Deeply, among many other outlets. When he isn't writing, Alastair is likely riding his bicycle uphill as fast as he can.

Articles by Alastair Bland

Retreat or Fight for Coastal Communities?

In the coastal getaway town of Stinson Beach, king tides and storm surges regularly put roads and parking lots underwater: wintertime events that give locals an unnerving idea of what rising sea level will look like for the small community. “We know sea-level rise is coming, but here, we say we’ve already got it,” says Stinson Beach homeowner Jeff Loomans, also the president of the Greater Farallones Association, which has been active in sea-level rise planning. Rising sea level is...
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A new project should dramatically improve conditions for endangered steelhead trout in the lower reaches of Alameda Creek.

The project is part of a long-term effort to restore steelhead to Alameda Creek. Last year, for the first time in decades, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission began releasing water from a newly retrofitted dam, effectively reviving an important tributary stream. Also in 2019, the Alameda County Flood Control District began construction of a key fish ladder at the BART line crossing that will allow adult steelhead to access the river’s headwaters. The new fish passage enhancement plan focuses...
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New archaeological evidence from the South Bay strengthens the case that Chinook salmon spawned naturally in the Guadalupe River.

Albion Environmental, a Santa Cruz research consulting firm, and researchers from Santa Clara University analyzed thousands of fish bones excavated from a 19th century indigenous village on Mission Creek, a historical Guadalupe River tributary long since buried under modern urban development. In an abstract of their research, which has not yet been published, the authors describe using DNA sequencing on 55 confirmed salmonid bones. They identified 52 as belonging to steelhead trout and three as Chinook salmon. Whether Chinook occurred...
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Urchinomics

By Alastair Bland As purple urchins have multiplied, kelp forests, already stressed by unusually warm water, have collapsed. Norwegian company Urchinomics proposes to capture the overpopulated urchins, fatten them up in circulating seawater tanks, and sell them to restaurants—hopefully in volumes sufficient to dent the urchin armies and allow a kelp comeback. Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary press liaison MaryJane Schramm says combatting the urchin takeover “goes directly to our mandate to maintain or restore ecosystem balance.” Citizen science, she...
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Dam Tweaks Yield Results

By Alastair Bland “After one year of flows, we’re seeing lots of rainbow trout,” says Brian Sak of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC). For the first time ever, cold water is flowing steadily through Calaveras Dam in southern Alameda County, and into the creek canyon below. The return of rainbow trout to Calaveras Creek marks a milestone in an ongoing, multi-agency restoration of Alameda Creek, which drains more than 600 square miles of the East Bay. Since the...
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Where have all the Herring Gone?

Pete has fished San Francisco Bay for nearly all of his 60 years. A lifelong San Francisco resident who keeps his last name to himself, he recalls herring runs in the 1970s the likes of which rarely, if ever, occur anymore. “I remember herring spawns that went from Oyster Point all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge,” says Pete, a former commercial fisherman, referring to the point near Brisbane. He also remembers massive spawns that stretched contiguously from the...
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Scarce Shark Tough to Tag

Basking sharks were once so abundant along the California coast that a thrill-seeking trophy hunter reportedly harpooned a half-dozen in under three hours in Monterey Bay. That was in 1947. Today, the big fish are so rare that it’s taken a team of scientists between San Diego and Santa Cruz eight years to put tracking tags into just six animals. Their numbers are so low, in fact, that researchers, working with tiny sample sizes, can scarcely study them at all...
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Next Day Delivery: PCBs, Plastics, and Mercury All in One Package

By Alastair Bland The slow, downstream chemical migration of legacy contaminants like mercury and PCBs into the Bay is something that Lester McKee and his colleagues at the San Francisco Estuary Institute hope to cut short. Using funding from the Regional Monitoring Program, they’ve been sampling creeks that enter the central and southern San Francisco Bay for years, identifying the most contaminated waterways. “We want to short-circuit the conveyor belt that delivers the pollutants we’re concerned about into the food...
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Kris Tjernell thinks there could hardly be more a more exciting time to be leading conservation and water management programs in the country’s most populous and perhaps most water-stressed state.

“I see opportunities for big change,” says Tjernell, who was appointed California Department of Water Resources’ deputy director last May. At the time the DWR was adopting a new approach toward land and water management—especially the inclusion of floodplain restoration in many of its flood control projects. “We are demanding a lot out of the landscape of the Delta, and we are demanding a lot out of the Central Valley and beyond,” Tjernell says, describing a system of resource allocation...
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Widening Gyre of Ocean Challenges

By Alastair Bland Last year, researches working with SF State’s Estuary and Ocean Science Center installed an array of instruments to track underwater parameters. John Largier, a UC Davis professor of oceanography, says he expects clear trends and patterns indicative of warming and acidifying waters to become apparent in the data in about a decade. With nations making painfully slow progress in reducing their emissions of greenhouse gases, Largier thinks local efforts to boost the resiliency of the Bay ecosystem...
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For the first time ever, an annual fish-counting survey has turned up zero Delta smelt—a dire milestone in Bay Area aquatic biology.

This does not mean the fish is extinct—yet—but it does mean that the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta ecosystem is in disarray. The species, which lives its entire life in the estuary, is a key ecological indicator—and it was prolific until just a couple of decades ago. According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Fall Midwater Trawl survey, which provides an annual index on abundance for several fish species in the Delta, the Delta smelt index generally averaged several hundred fish...
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Shark Hunt Stand Off

In the spring and summer months, anglers armed with heavy line and large hooks drop anchor in the murky, current-torn waters between Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge seeking the elusive, and occasionally gigantic, broadnose sevengill shark. As social-media hype stokes excitement among trophy seekers, some other fisherfolk and conservationists want to see the pursuit ended before it depletes shark numbers. While interest in catching large, breeding-age sevelgills has risen in recent years, it remains unclear whether the population can...
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Cigarette Butts Still the Number One Item in Coastal Trash

The number one item still found in California’s beach and coast clean ups is cigarette butts, according to Surfrider’s San Francisco chapter director Shelley Ericksen. Surfrider’s “Hold-on-to-your-Butt” campaign, launched in 1992, and local law enforcement have failed to make a dent in the habit of smokers tossing their butts anywhere they please, and this isn’t good for the environment. A 2011 study in the journal Tobacco Control showed that a single butt in a liter of water can lethally poison...
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South San Francisco: Colma Creek Collect and Connect

On the south face of San Bruno Mountain, giant white letters read “South San Francisco: The Industrial City.” According to Richard Mullane, urban designer and Resilient by Design team member of HASSELL+, “that sign has given this city a massive identity problem.” As a part of the challenge to redesign a Bay Area more resilient to sea level rise, HASSELL+ has focused on the urban core of South San Francisco, currently a noisy mess of boulevards, freeways, and warehouses that...
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