San Francisco Bay is teeming with life. Sure, we’re familiar with the fish, birds, and crabs, but when was the last time you stopped and took a closer look? You may have missed this particular group of organisms because they’re small and most don’t move. Local boaters, however, are well aware of this community and consider them a nuisance. Yet, these creatures, known as the fouling community, figure out a way to hang on (pun intended) and in many ways, have been shaped by people’s choices.
San Francisco Bay’s fouling community is often overlooked. But look right underneath the waterline in the right places— the undersides of boats, the sides of floating piers, dock pilings, and within our floating oyster beds— and there they are. This colorful cast of characters includes our native oyster, barnacles, mussels, sea squirts, algae, nudibranchs, and bryozoans (a colonial animal). The vast majority of these organisms originates from somewhere else and typically hitches a ride in the ballast water of large container ships. Today, this community is a fixture in San Francisco Bay and our Living Shoreline program is introducing them to a new generation of environmental stewards.
While the focus of the Living Shoreline program is our native Olympia oyster, we understand, appreciate, and teach our students that everything is interconnected. Our Oyster Hotel program is a first in San Francisco Bay, it engages elementary students using our floating oyster beds to teach about their associated fouling community.
Our floating oyster beds are in the water “catching” organisms at the Marina Bay Yacht Harbor in Richmond, CA. In our floats, we’re using oyster shell as the hard surface for sessile organisms to attach to and live out their lives. Our floats mimic the intertidal (in and out of the water) and subtidal (always in the water) habitats. By the time spring rolls around, we expect to take our first group of local Richmond elementary school students out to these living beds of complex organisms. The field trip to the marina is sandwiched between two in-class sessions. The first in-class session is a hands-on introduction to watersheds, fouling organisms, and the difference between intertidal and subtidal habitats. On the field trip, students explore the floating oyster beds, count oysters, and compare the biodiversity in the intertidal and subtidal floats. The program ends with an interactive activity showing the effects of ocean acidification and how it could affect species in the Bay, including people. We hope to replicate this program in the future at other local marinas and provide the same experience for other students. Imagine the number of “Wow’s” from young students coming face to face with these alien-like life forms for the first time. I can already anticipate young students’ most common question, “That’s an animal?!”
If you are an elementary school teacher in Richmond and would like to provide this free, hands-on, and experiential program for your students, please contact Chris Lim or call 510-214-6897. This program is in line with the Next Generation standards. Please click here for a program flier.