Big Ideas

San Francisco Bay Subtidal Habitat Goals Project

I recently learned about the San Francisco Subtidal Habitat Goals Project, a self-stated “Collaborative, Interagency Approach to Protect the Hidden Bay.” The organization is a collaboration between a variety of local and federal agencies and local conservation groups, and is committed to “setting science-based goals for maintaining a healthy, productive, and resilient ecosystem.”

Figure 3-1 from the most recent report from SF Bay Subtidal Habitat Goals Project, illustrating the types of subtidal habitats and processes that are common in subtidal urban environments

Quite a feat for an organization that works on urbanized subtidal environments – the ultimate unknown when it comes to modern marine ecology. I’m most impressed!

I’m particularly impressed because of their open and informed recognition that managing urban subtidal ecosystems is critical despite the limitations of our current understanding. In their own words: “Although a tremendous amount of scientific information is available from research and monitoring in the bay, little of it is useful in making decisions about specific proposals for development or restoration as it relates to subtidal habitat. Part of the reason for this shortfall is that subtidal habitats are usually invisible in the bay’s turbid waters, and most sampling methods cannot provide detailed information about the location and condition of the various habitats. Equally important is the need to learn more about the functions of these habitats, how they respond to environmental change, and how to protect and enhance them.”

I bring up this recent discovery because the organization put out a 200+ page report that is more comprehensive, contemplative, and contemporary in the context of current theoretical ecology than any I’ve ever seen from a governmental/non-profit collaboration of any kind, let alone one focused on urban subtidal ecosystems! In their report, highlighted science goals include identifying the ecosystem services that urban subtidal habitats support, understanding how artificial structures affect estuarine ecosystems, and characterizing the interactions between different urban subtidal habitat types. This is novel stuff! Someone involved is quite up to date on the cutting edge of ecology, and is applying it where it matters.

Not only are the research needs they highlight completely on point, they represent essential areas of study if climate change adaptation efforts are to be planned and implemented in a way that maintains and/or enhances the services that subtidal ecosystems provide to urban populations. Unless we understand how the modifications we make to marine habitats influence fishing, crabbing, the filtering and processing of water-borne pollutants, and various other benefits we receive from subtidal ecosystems, we may lose these benefits as we amour and prepare our shorelines for rising seas.

Figure 6-3 from San Francisco Bay Subtidal Habitat Goals Project’s 2010 report – an impressive flow chart of the relevant effects and considerations when managing urban artificial structures

Indeed, urban subtidal ecosystems globally are understudied and poorly understood.  But the Bay Area has surprised me by being well ahead of the curve. Whether it’s their impressive benthic maps or their honest statements of the limitations of current knowledge, I’m quite glad to know that my hometown is in good hands with the San Francisco Bay Subtidal Habitat Goals Project. Stay tuned to all their endeavors here. And read their full report from 2010 here.