Bay Area conservationists say region much healthier, but more action required to save the earth

People who make their livings fighting to protect the Bay Area say the region is a lot healthier than it was when Earth Day began in the 1970s.

"But it is still not as clean as it could be. It is not in great shape right now," said Cole Burchiel, field investigator for San Francisco Baykeeper, an organization that looks for threats to the Bay and tries to hold polluters accountable.

"We are still having catastrophic pollution events like the Chevron oil spill," Burchiel said.

The Chevron oil spill happened after a broken pipeline caused more than 600 gallons of oil to leak into the Bay two months ago.

"Until we can mitigate all those effects and more, then the Bay won't be clean," Burchiel said.

Like so much of the world, the pandemic has affected the Bay Area. Conservationists say on one hand, fewer people driving has meant less pollution from cars. But on the other hand, a lot of personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves, are getting into the water and onshore.

"Those gloves and masks are mostly plastic and they survive forever in the environment. That poisons fish and wildlife and clogs our wetlands," says David Lewis, executive director of the organization Save The Bay.

The pandemic has made it more difficult to organize large-scale volunteer clean-ups. Baykeeper is encouraging small groups to clean up trash from the shoreline.

But conservationists agree the biggest threat to the Bay is climate change, especially the rise in sea level which could increase an estimated 7 to 10 feet over the next century.

"Communities like Alameda could be completely underwater within 100 years. Richmond, Oakland, and Berkeley are also going to experience catastrophic levels of sea-level rise," said Burchiel. "What we need to do is prepare for this."

But there is also hope for San Francisco Bay.

"The fact we have saved the Bay over the last several decades from almost dying should really be an inspiration. If we can take action to reduce climate change and actually save our region," said Lewis.