This week, KQED airs a repeat broadcast of Saving the Bay: The Story of San Francisco Bay. This fascinating four-part series is a must-see event for all residents of the San Francisco Bay Area and anyone who has ever been enchanted by the geographic wonder that is San Francisco Bay. Narrated by Robert Redford, the program covers many different aspects of the Bay and its development. With an impressive roster of passionate scientists, historians, activists, and other experts, you’re certain to learn something you never knew about the Bay around which we live and on which so much life depends.
Saving the Bay inspired me to start writing about issues facing the San Francisco Bay. I’ve lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for nearly 20 years. When I first moved to the Bay Area from my tropical paradise home of Honolulu, Hawai’i, I was young, alone, and eternally chilled by the cool, moist climate. I found a respite on the large and often unfriendly Berkeley campus under the Campanile. There, on sunny afternoons in between classes, I would find a grassy spot under the clock tower, warm myself in the sun, and gaze out at the water, with the Golden Gate Bridge elegantly strung at the mouth of the Bay. Looking at the Bay, I comforted myself in the knowledge that life-giving water, the Pacific Ocean, the ocean of my childhood, was not far away. Walking and biking by the Bay, viewing the life and beauty that surrounded it, simply watching the sunlight sparkle on the water kept me from utter despair when I first left my island home, and the Bay continues to this day to be an important part of my life.
Yet in all my years of enjoying the special quality of life by the Bay, I have to admit that I had never thought of its history, how it has been profoundly altered by human development and industry. Even though I walked or biked Bay trails countless times, I never contemplated how many wetlands and marshes have been lost from the Bay, how many species of animals and plants have disappeared from its shores.
I never took the time to understand how many different kinds of birds populate the marshes and beaches, how complex life is in and around the Bay. While I knew from my many walks along the Bay that the Bay contains fish contaminated by mercury, I never asked where that mercury came from in the first place (toxic runoff from industrial mines in the eastern hills). I knew that certain areas in San Francisco were composed of landfill – most infamously the Marina district – but failed to consider what was lost when “land” was gained to expand shoreline development. The word “watershed” was one I never used when describing the San Francisco Bay area, despite the fact that our home is one of the largest watersheds in the country. The Saving the Bay series is the beginning of my education on the San Francisco Bay, and I urge it to become yours as well.