Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Natural History of San Francisco Bay

Natural History of San Francisco Bay

Ariel Rubissow Okamoto
Kathleen M. Wong
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 352
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Natural History of San Francisco Bay
    Book Description:

    This complete primer on San Francisco Bay is a multifaceted exploration of an extraordinary, and remarkably resilient, body of water. Bustling with oil tankers, laced with pollutants, and crowded with forty-six cities, the bay is still home to healthy eelgrass beds, young Dungeness crabs and sharks, and millions of waterbirds. Written in an entertaining style for a wide audience,Natural History of San Francisco Baydelves into an array of topics including fish and wildlife, ocean and climate cycles, endangered and invasive species, and the path from industrialization to environmental restoration. More than sixty scientists, activists, and resource managers share their views and describe their work-tracing mercury through the aquatic ecosystem, finding ways to convert salt ponds back to tidal wetlands, anticipating the repercussions of climate change, and more. Fully illustrated and packed with stories, quotes, and facts, the guide also tells how San Francisco Bay sparked an environmental movement that now reaches across the country.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94998-0
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)

    This book is unusual among the California Natural History Guides. It explores not only the natural history of San Francisco Bay but also its human history and how each affects the other. It may be the first in the series to describe a place so urbanized and to focus on a body of water rather than a piece of land, though land and water here are inextricably linked in their destiny.

    This guide may also be the first to have so many voices in it. As a journalist who has researched and reported on water issues for over 20 years,...

    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. 1-12)

    EMMA MACCHIARINI SWAM before she walked. On the morning of July 12, 1989, she got up early, dressed in a sparkly swimsuit with a pink bow, smeared herself with Vaseline, and stepped into the bay. Swimming from Fort Point under the southern tower of the Golden Gate Bridge to Lime Point on the opposite shore, she aimed to cross a coastal opening where currents surge with all the force of an entire ocean on one side and the state’s mightiest rivers on the other. She recalls thinking while in the water that they’d got the tides all wrong. The swim...

  6. BENEATH THE SURFACE: What Is an Estuary?
    (pp. 13-52)

    AT FIRST GLANCE the bay may look like a big lake full of blue water, but look again. Most days a closer inspection might reveal some white caps crawling east, or a finger of green or brown water meeting blue, or sloops with full sails that nonetheless seem to be going nowhere. These are all clues that the bay is neither a lake (a landlocked pool of water) nor a simple inlet of the sea, but an estuary.

    In a 1967 article inEstuaries,oceanographer Donald Pritchard defines an estuary as “a semi-enclosed coastal body of water which has a...

  7. VISIBLE AND INVISIBLE LIFE: Fish, Birds, and Other Wildlife
    (pp. 53-104)

    GLANCING AT THE BAY from a speeding auto or at the edge of the pier, it’s difficult to tell that it teems with a dazzling variety of life. With time and patience, however, signs of life always materialize. For most observers, birds are the first to move into sight: white gulls circling overhead, sander-lings poking beaks into the smear of shoreline mud, or a black-and-white Western Grebe, long neck arched for a fishing expedition.

    Those who scramble down to the water’s edge encounter an even broader slice of estuary organisms. Empty crab carapaces, fish vertebrae, and bottle-green strands of eelgrass...

  8. HISTORY OF HUMAN CHANGES: 1800s–1960s
    (pp. 105-148)

    SQUINTING AT THE BAY in the playful light at dawn, on a day when fog hides the tall buildings and cell towers and muffles the first sirens and car alarms, it’s possible to visualize a scene from 200 years past. Historic accounts describe a place where there were as many ducks and salmon as there are people today, and where it was not unusual to encounter grizzlies or mountain lions, or to see otters playing offshore.

    In the dawn haze, a historic visitor might have seen a woman with a basket dig with a pointed stick in the shoreline mud...

    (pp. 149-208)

    TAKE A LOOK and a sniff of the bay and most days you’ll find it relatively refreshing. Four decades ago, however, San Francisco Bay smelled like old sneakers. Locals heading down to the bay for a Sunday stroll were more likely to find a garbage dump than a shoreline path edged with wild strawberries and purple sage. No one took their toddlers to wade in the gentle chop or donned a wetsuit to windsurf back then—bay water was too unappealing. In those days, residents of the East Bay hills could actually see the bay shrinking as cities filled their...

    (pp. 209-236)

    AS PART OF AN ESTUARY, the bay’s health is inextricably connected to the health of its watershed. Everything that happens on the lands upstream, and on the banks of the rivers and creeks flowing into the bay, affects the quality of its waters and quantity of its salmon, waterfowl, and other wildlife. The rivers and streams of the watershed connect inland California to the coast, and the bay to 40 percent of the state.

    “In the last 20 years, one of the best things we’ve done from an ecological perspective is recognize the value of landscape-level restoration, such as restoring...

    (pp. 237-284)

    CALIFORNIANS ACCUSTOMED TO majestic redwood giants, lofty Sierra peaks, and golden hills dotted with oaks took some coaching to appreciate the beauty of a flat, wet swamp. But in the end, they voted to spend millions reviving the bay’s shallows and shores. In the process, they committed to restoring a ring of wetlands around the bay roomy enough to ease wilder inhabitants off the endangered species list.

    Though the bay has lost almost 90 percent of its historic wetlands, the tides are now being invited back onto half of them. Engineers who once scraped eelgrass beds off harbor bottoms and...

    (pp. 285-298)

    LIVING ON ROCK, or at least on rebar-reinforced concrete, is second nature to anyone who’s felt the earth roll under their feet in a California quake. Those who lived in the Sacramento Valley through all the floods of the twentieth century learned to retreat to higher ground or behind a levee. Those who live up coastal canyons and foothills know the fear of fire—which once renewed California’s grasslands and forests—burning through their communities with frightening heat and speed.

    “What is this strange quality in humans that makes them court disaster? They build their homes on floodplains and riverbanks,...

  13. CODA
    (pp. 299-302)

    THE OTHER DAY at dusk I took a walk along San Francisco’s Aquatic Park, where the shape of the shore still follows an original cove. Though humans have added piers and breakwaters and a city to the scene, on this evening the activities of people and wildlife blend in the abalone light.

    It’s an El Niño year, rich in fish food. At this time of day, when the tides are turning, the slack water is so full of sardines and mackerel that fishers have abandoned their rods to dip hoop nets into the water.

    A group of sea lions is...

    (pp. 303-306)
    (pp. 307-312)
    (pp. 313-319)
    (pp. 320-322)
    (pp. 323-324)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 325-334)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 335-337)