Sometime in the 70s a murder victim washed up on a bay shore. The police knew to go ask a scientist — where might this body have come from? The answer it turned out was the Golden Gate Bridge. Gangs used to think of it as a good place to dump bodies, thinking they’d soon be carried out to sea, never to be seen again. But our bay waters are more complicated than that. It turns out that the surface water tends to move out to see, but the undercurrents — where a dead body might sink — move inland.
Scientists have spent a good amount of effort and equipment puzzling this out. Not dead bodies per se, but with boats like the Polaris and the Long Fin that are out there collecting and measuring.
The story of our San Francisco Bay is a long one, and for a long time a sad one – impacted as it is by all the hunting, mining, fishing, filling, draining, blowing things up, alien invasions, trash, and dam building that has effected its waters over the last 150 odd years in particular.
Many of those impacts are ongoing and difficult to control (alien species being a good case in point). But the last 50 years has seen an increase in those who would wish to protect, understand, and restore our waters. No longer does the bay stink, and serve as the collective trash dump.
There us still plenty of nature to be found here – the estuary is open ended a mixing bowl of rivers and tides and the bay still serves as a murky nursery to many species of fish. Little fish thrive, there are seals, sea lions, and the only recently returned porpoise. The larger estuary is still a stopover on the Pacific Flyway.
What many people and organizations are working on now is bringing more of that nature back. Bringing us back to a hopefully healthier mix of urban and natural: there are grand 50 years plans to restore salt ponds to wetland, which have has already begun with great signs; plans to restore underwater bay meadows of eel grass — a good habitat for all sorts of creatures and which secures the mud; plans to see if beds of Olympia oysters can be built. We are aiding some species more at risk than others — like for the Clapper Rail — building floating homes where they are safer from all the raccoons and other meso-predators out there.
There are of course risks and additional challenges in all of this — plans for more fill, or the possibility of erosion of the bay bottom which has been securing gold mining mercury for decades. And this is of course, where we hope the science will come in to aid our understanding, help us meet challenges, shift courses, and have a healthy bay for us all to enjoy.