April 25, 2019



With 8 million people living in its watershed San Francisco Bay is the most urbanized estuary in the U.S. and development has taken a toll on its local marine life. But on April 28, the Bay will become the newest Mission Blue Hope Spot, injecting new life into conservation efforts.

Golden Gate Bridge (c) Erin Blackwood

San Francisco Bay is a hotspot for marine biodiversity, with more than 500 species of fish and wildlife, including migratory salmon, herring and anchovies. Since the 1960s, billions of dollars and many volunteer hours have been invested to restore the Bay’s ecological health. These efforts have started to pay off: Water quality has greatly improved, watersheds are healthier, tidal wetland restoration is underway and many marine animals are returning to the Bay.

Harbor porpoises have returned after decades of absence, and now bottlenose dolphins are spotted regularly in the Bay, with some in the area year-round. In the future, it may even be possible to see endangered California sea otters thriving here once again. The recovery of California sea otters is stalling due in part to water pollution from toxic land runoff and expanding populations of predatory sharks in the waters south of the San Francisco Bay. The Bay provides a refuge from these sharks making it an important place for its potential to support sea otter recovery.

Brown pelican (c) Erin Blackwood

Yet, there is still much to do and these encouraging signs inspire us to do more. Scientists say the Bay needs a more concerted focus on conservation.

The Estuary & Ocean Science (EOS) Center at San Francisco State University is hosting the launch of the San Francisco Bay Hope Spot, in collaboration with the San Francisco Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (a NOAA program) and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. The launch will take place at the EOS Center’s Discovery Day open house on April 28 at 2 pm, at San Francisco State’s Romberg Tiburon Campus. As a Hope Spot, San Francisco Bay will receive help from Mission Blue to ignite regional support for a renewed conservation plan, encompassing ongoing habitat restoration, expanding protections for the richly diverse life that inhabits the bay and including new voices.

Moon jellies (c) Erin Blackwood

“Despite a legacy of environmental degradation, San Francisco Bay is full of marine life thanks to the efforts of dedicated people who work to create, protect and restore natural habitats and improve water quality,” said Karina Nielsen, executive director of the EOS Center and a Hope Spot Champion. “However, the gains we’ve achieved remain vulnerable to climate change and other challenges. San Francisco Bay is a complex social and ecological system loved by many, but it’s also a challenging place to advance conservation efforts. We need a renewed focus on marine life conservation to protect the special place in San Francisco Bay providing refuge for marine life, especially its life sustaining habitats and nurseries for young animals preparing for their ocean life.

Sleeping sea lions (c) Erin Blackwood

California leads the way with marine protected areas (MPAs) along its outer coast, which focus on recovering marine fish and wildlife and conserving the extraordinary diversity of life along our coast. However, San Francisco Bay has been left largely unprotected in this regard. Looking to the future, stakeholders hope to enhance marine fish and wildlife conservation planning efforts for San Francisco Bay.

Eel grass (c) Erin Blackwood

“Many communities that border the Bay are seeking innovative solutions to adapt to sea level rise, that simultaneously help marine life, provide places for people to connect with the bay shore and also draw down and store carbon,” Nielsen explained. “Urban marine environments can provide these important conservation benefits, including equitable access to natural bay shore environments. But we need to expand collaborative approaches and include new voices in our conservation planning.”

Hope Spot Champions like Sylvia Gibson, people who nominate and support the creation of, and inspire ongoing conservation efforts in, a Hope Spot want the San Francisco Bay designation to help cultivate political will and advance new conservation priorities and goals.

“I grew up by the Bay and have always known its waters as my home,” Gibson said. “I’ve learned that the health of the Bay and the interconnected health of the ocean are in jeopardy because of human activity. It’s my intention to focus public awareness on the San Francisco Bay and how the health of the Bay supports the health of our communities. As a Hope Spot Champion, I’d like to connect with allies to protect, restore, and love the Bay.”

Seahare (c) Erin Blackwood

“We have focused so much on environmental problems — which has led to important improvements — that there is a common misperception that the bay is not healthy and the problems are too big to fix,” said Michael Vasey, Director of the San Francisco Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. “With the return of whales, dolphins, porpoises and a myriad of other species that once occupied our bay waters, it is important that we recognize there are positive signs of ecological recovery in our estuary. I believe that this Hope Spot designation will help people see the power of their efforts when they apply science and sustained political will to restoration and conservation. We can expect things to improve and there is a lot we can do to keep up this positive momentum.”

Dr. Sylvia Earle, founder of Mission Blue adds, “San Francisco Bay is a place where so many people care– there are more than 7 million people in the Bay Area– that’s 7 million minds and hearts that can be directed to maintain the good things and to improve the things that are not so good. Not only for the Bay but for all of the people that live here now, and certainly far into the future. We have a chance, but that chance is slipping away unless we act now and set an example here in this beautiful city that can be something the world can look to and say, ‘If they can achieve it in a place with a high population, maybe we can do it elsewhere in the world.'”

The establishment of the San Francisco Bay Hope Spot aims to inspire a cohesive, integrated plan for ocean and marine life conservation. With the Bay Area’s conservation-minded populace and dedicated educational institutions, the framework is already in place to establish a cohesive plan to preserve the health of the Bay’s unique marine ecosystem for generations to come — we just have to take the plunge.

Elegant Terns (c) Erin Blackwood

About Mission Blue

Led by legendary oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle, Mission Blue is uniting a global coalition to inspire an upwelling of public awareness, access and support for a worldwide network of marine protected areas — Hope Spots. Under Dr. Earle’s leadership, the Mission Blue team implements communications campaigns that elevate Hope Spots to the world stage through documentaries, social media, traditional media and innovative tools like Google Earth. Mission Blue embarks on regular oceanic expeditions that shed light on these vital ecosystems and build support for their protection. Mission Blue also supports the work of conservation NGOs around the world that share the mission of building public support for ocean protection. The Mission Blue alliance includes more than 200 respected ocean conservation groups and like-minded organizations.


About SF State’s Estuary & Ocean Science Center

The Estuary & Ocean Science Center supports scientific study of the sea, enhances public engagement with marine science and develops solutions to the environmental problems confronting coastal communities. We connect science, society and the sea through outstanding interdisciplinary research, education and outreach programs, training the next generation of scientists and sustaining healthy and resilient coastal ecosystems for future generations. We are part of San Francisco State University and located on the Romberg Tiburon Campus in Tiburon, California.


About San Francisco State University

 San Francisco State University is a doctoral public university serving students from the San Francisco Bay Area, across California and around the world, with nationally acclaimed programs that span a broad range of disciplines. Nearly 30,000 students enroll at the University each year, and its more than 321,000 graduates have contributed to the economic, cultural and civic fabric of San Francisco and beyond. Through them — and more than 1,800 world-class faculty members — SF State proudly embraces its legacy of academic excellence, community engagement and commitment to social justice.


About the San Francisco Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve

The San Francisco Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) improves understanding and stewardship of the estuary, with a broader relevance to the ecosystems beyond the Golden Gate. The tidal marshes at Rush Ranch and China Camp serve as research sites for scientists; classrooms for teachers, land managers and naturalists; and inspiring places for Bay Area residents to visit. The San Francisco Bay NERR is part of the National Estuarine Research Reserve System, a network of 29 estuarine areas — places where freshwater from the land mixes with saltwater from the sea — established across the nation for long-term research, education, and coastal stewardship. The SF Bay NERR is a partnership between NOAA and California based at SF State’s EOS Center.


About the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) provides science-based knowledge to meet the environmental challenges of the 21st century. SERC scientists and students lead research on coastal ecosystems around the world — with a focus on bays and estuaries — to inform real-world decisions for wise policies, best business practices, and a sustainable planet. SERC has its main campus on the shore of Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, and a large research group based at SF State’s EOS Center, working in close partnership with SF Bay NERR and EOS.


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