Time Travel on the Bay

Time Travel on the Bay

By Aleta George “In day-to-day life we look at the world in a three-dimensional view,” Liam O’Donoghue, host and producer of the award-winning podcast East Bay Yesterday, says, “but when you know history, you can look at it through four dimensions because you can see into the past using your imagination.” On a recent boat tour of the East Bay shoreline led by O’Donoghue, Captain Andy threaded his vessel Pacific Pearl through the Berkeley pier as if it were a...
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Jan Thompson has always been most interested in what happens down at the bottom of the Bay.

The zone of interaction between the critters in the oozes and the water column above—where specks of sediment, nutrients, and fish food cycle through clam siphons into the Estuary—is the particular specialty of this US Geological Survey scientist. “I’m most proud of the research I’ve done establishing a solid connection between bivalve grazing and phytoplankton growth,” she says. When USGS first hired Thompson, who retired in October 2019, most women in the Menlo Park office were secretaries. She’s since trained...
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After nearly 30 years in refuge management on public lands, Anne Morkill is leaving government, but not wildlife, behind.

Following her February 2020 retirement from managing the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which she led for nearly a decade, Morkill is taking the helm at the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation, a nonprofit that stewards one of the largest freshwater wetlands complexes on the northern California coast. Morkill believes that San Francisco Bay provides unusual potential for restoring habitat for wildlife in a highly urban environment. “That’s what makes it so special,” she says, citing the Bay...
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“The Bay is a jewel ― can you imagine if it stunk like it did in the ’50s or if it was green with algae?” asks retiring Executive Director of the Bay Area Clean Water Agencies (BACWA) David Williams, reflecting on his work over much of the last decade to address nutrient pollution.

Working with the 37 wastewater treatment plants that discharge into the Bay, as well as with the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, Williams helped establish a science-based regional permit for nutrients from the plants. The forward-thinking permit includes nature-based solutions like using wastewater to nurture horizontal levees or create wetlands, buffering the Bay shore from crashing waves as the sea rises. “We have a very enlightened Water Board,” Williams says, “because of that, instead of fighting, the...
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Good Policy, More Tests for Living Shores

By Ariel Rubissow Okamoto While more sea walls may soon be necessary to adapt to rising seas, softer, greener, nature-based shorelines will also be important buffers for our cities and waterfronts. Wetlands, oyster reefs, eelgrass beds, and other natural features of shores and shallows figure largely in a number of ambitious, multi-partner restoration projects over the last decade. To date, more than 10 such projects have been or are being restored around the Bay, encompassing more than 200 acres of...
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Bay Not BPA-Free

By Ariel Rubissow Okamoto “BPA is globally detected in human urine,” says scientist Ila Shimabuku of the San Francisco Estuary Institute. BPA, one of a chemical group called bisphenols, is a clear, stable, durable ingredient in plastic bottles, can liners, cash register receipts and many other things we use and touch every day. In 2017, the RMP collected and analyzed 16 bisphenols (including bisphenol A, or BPA) in 22 water samples from around San Francisco Bay. Concentrations of BPA found...
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Invasive clams and freshwater exports from the Delta have created dramatic and unsustainable changes in the San Francisco Estuary’s foodweb over the past 50 years.

 A study by UC Davis researchers found a 97% decline in phytoplankton, the microscopic foundation of the food chain. “Understanding the causes for the decline in the pelagic [water column] community is essential so that efficient solutions can be implemented,” says Bruce Hammock, a research scientist at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine’s Aquatic Health Program. The invasive clams (Potamocorbula amurensis), originally from Asia, have been over-consuming phytoplankton and zooplankton for more than 30 years, and have long been...
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While it’s been a tough year for marine mammals along the California coast, local San Francisco Bay conditions may have afforded scientists a unique opportunity to study emerging ocean problems.

The Marine Mammal Center participated in 12 necropsies of deceased gray whales in and around the Bay. Later in the year, malnourished Guadalupe fur seals stranded along the coast at a historically high rate. In June, a surprisingly early toxic algae bloom off the coast of San Luis Obispo caused a rash of cases of Domoic Acid Toxicity among pregnant and yearling California sea lions. Dr. Cara Field, staff veterinarian at The Marine Mammal Center, has some theories as to...
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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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Oakland green infrastructure vision.

Clock Ticking for Cities to Commit to Greening

Managing stormwater is a physics problem, and not a very glamorous one. In decades past, the main objective of managing stormwater was figuring out how fast it could be directed through the Bay Area’s built landscape via storm drains, culverts, and channels, and into the Bay. In decades future, however, the object will be to slow down the runoff, and sink it into greener, spongier surfaces sprinkled throughout our cities and counties, or to run it through more meandering, more...
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Jessica Fain got a crash course in resilience planning when Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast in 2012.

Fain, Planning Director for the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) since October, was part of a three-person office in the Waterfront and Open Space Division of New York’s Department of City Planning. “We were doing a small study on adaptation options,” she recalls. “In the middle of that, Sandy hit. Suddenly all eyes were on us.” Fain brings that background to a setting unlike New York in many ways. Instead of five boroughs, for example, she’s dealing with a...
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Therese McMillan inherits huge challenges as the new Executive Director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

The Bay Area region is beleaguered by traffic, a crippling housing shortage, and growing inequality. MTC plays a role in all these areas. “We have a master coordinator role in being able to knit the region together through land use and transportation planning, and major dollar investments,” says McMillan of the MTC, which distributes billions of public transportation dollars collected annually by local, state and federal governments, although she notes that the agency doesn’t “have land use authority, or our...
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Sandra Scoggin has the qualities the San Francisco Bay Joint Venture needs in a leader at what she calls a ‘pivot point’ for the partnership.

In the early days, when the wetland protection and restoration landscape was less complex, the JV “could be everywhere and do everything.” Now it needs to be more strategic. “I’m a listener, a synthesizer, and I’m pretty good at herding diverse interests toward shared goals,” says Scoggin, who is taking over the 20-year-old wildlife habitat venture after 16 years in second seat. “The JV is built on deep and lasting relationships,” she says, both awe and pride in her voice....
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Getting a Bead on Table Salt

By Joe Eaton Microplastics are present in the San Francisco Bay, and at higher concentrations than Chesapeake Bay or the Great Lakes, according to a San Francisco Estuary Institute study led by Rebecca Sutton. There’s “a lot of uncertainty about potential impacts to people and wildlife,” she says.“[Miicroplastics are] a variable contaminant and challenging to interpret.” What we know is sufficient cause for concern: apart from their physical impacts, plastics can absorb other pollutants and some plastic ingredients are known...
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Saltwater Revival

“Swimming sustains me,” says Fran Hegeler of the South End Rowing Club. That’s the kind of enthusiastic language some Bay swimmers express, but sharing the water means sharing it in sickness and in health. Right now, Sausalito’s Marine Mammal Center is dealing with a large outbreak of leptospirosis, a bacterial infection that can cause fatal kidney damage in California sea lions. But it isn’t likely to affect swimmers, as the bacteria is not known to survive long in saltwater.
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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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Just months after becoming the first project awarded Measure AA funding, the first phase of tidal breaching at the Montezuma Wetlands restoration project will be two-thirds complete by the end of November.

“We are on track to complete the levees and transition zones next year so we can breach into the slough and restore the area to tidal action,” says Jim Levine, managing partner of Montezuma Wetlands LLC, which owns the property. The breach of the first major restoration area is planned for December 2019. This phase of the multi-phase project will restore 600 acres of previously subsided shoreline on the eastern edge of Suisun Bay to tidal, seasonal and some sub-tidal habitat....
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MEGA-PEARLS, Oct 2018

A Stream of Science Takeaways. ESTUARY News sent reporters to the biennial Bay-Delta Science Conference in September. This special edition of Pearls shares more than 20 takeaways.
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Dioxins Are Sticking Around Nearshore and in Fish, RMP Reports

As the “Fish-SMART” signs on local piers warn, the tissues of fish reeled in from San Francisco Bay waters can contain mercury or PCBs, but a new RMP report reminds us of a third contaminant of concern to human health: dioxins. The report, due out in October 2018 and prepared by staff of the San Francisco Estuary Institute and the SF Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, confirms that while levels of this toxic contaminant in sediments nearshore have declined...
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Following the Water: Bobcats in Coyote Valley

By Ashleigh Papp From a bird’s eye view, the area between the Santa Cruz and Diablo mountain ranges looks like any typical valley. But the work being done by Tanya Diamond, a wildlife biologist with Pathways for Wildlife, shows that the Coyote Valley offers much more to native wildlife and conservationists than mere open space. With satellite tracking collars and footage captured by hidden cameras, Diamond’s team has confirmed just how much water – Coyote and Fisher Creeks in particular...
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