The Secret Ingredient

Oil sheen in Richmond along the shoreline

The traditional holiday season of thanks is taking on new flavor as I reflect on what Baykeeper has accomplished over this past year. There’s so much to be grateful for. We made it through the worst of the pandemic, and now we’re stronger and heartier than before. New additions to our staff have enhanced our legal and financial know-how. New Advisory Board members have amplified our expertise in science and law. And new methods of patrolling the Bay via drone and kayak have stoked our ability to find and fix pollution. The end results?  We’ve improved upon our time-tested recipe for success with lots of savory new wins for the Bay.

First, the year began when Richmond residents alerted us to an oil sheen on the Bay near Chevron’s tanker wharf and that the waterfront smelled like a gas station. Our new drone, Osprey, was in the air within minutes to capture Chevron’s failed attempts to contain the oil spill from its pipeline, which poured more than 600 gallons of oil into the water. Response agencies opened investigations into what went wrong, and Baykeeper’s drone footage and first-hand reporting provided critical evidence. Baykeeper is now advocating alongside concerned members of Richmond’s city council to ensure that Chevron is held accountable for the harm it caused to sensitive habitats and nearby neighborhoods.

Then, in the summer, we responded to an anonymous hotline tip alerting us to potential incidents of pollution at the Port of Benicia. Our field team used Osprey to investigate and they caught the company red-handed: When the facility was loading petroleum coke into cargo ships, they were spilling large amounts of this toxic black substance into the water. Our lawyers used the evidence we captured to put the company on notice that we’d be taking them to court. Petcoke is a spoiled leftover of the oil refining process, and it’s an established pollutant under the Clean Water Act—so needless to say, any amount in the Bay is too much. Adding to the mix, petcoke is exported overseas to be burned as fuel—creating more carbon emissions than coal, making petcoke a significant contributor to the global climate crisis.

Now, we’re ending the year with a sweet treat, when just this month our hard-fought legal battle to keep Richmond’s coal ban in place culminated in a victory. The coal industry agreed to drop its legal challenge and to stop storing and handling all coal within city limits by the end of 2026. The Levin coal export facility on the Richmond shoreline also formally committed to putting in place anti-pollution measures to reduce the risk to neighboring communities until then. What better way to count down to the year’s end than to relish that coal’s days in Richmond are finally numbered!

I’m tremendously grateful that even during a tough year like this, we’ve been able to kick it up a notch to tackle the fossil fuel industry—and its deep pockets—and keep on winning.

I’ll let you in our not-so-secret ingredient: The key to all of our wins involves San Francisco Bay itself. Our beautiful, glossy Bay inspires Baykeeper’s talented staff to wake up every morning feeling passionate about our mission, and ready to take on the challenges with gusto to protect our wildlife and the communities of the Bay Area. And the Bay also gives dedicated supporters like you the zest to stand with us as we defend the Bay from the most urgent threats. Our recipe for success wouldn’t be so good without all of you by our side.

With gratitude for this feast,


Sejal Choksi-Chugh
Executive Director

Here are some thoughts from Baykeeper staff and the board of directors about what makes the Bay an important ingredient for our success.

Breathless pause before the exhilarating plunge of a Brown Pelican into the Bay. Will it emerge, beak pouched, full of fish?
– Kirsten A., Finance and Administration Director

The Bay gives us a sense of community. We think of ourselves as residents of the Bay Area. The Bay gives us a commonality; no matter where we come from, the Bay brings us all together.
– David J., Chair, Board of Directors

I am so thankful for days at the Bay’s beaches with my kids. Any time of year we can find a beach to build castles, throw rocks into the water, and just generally enjoy the fresh air and beautiful scenery that makes the Bay Area uniquely wonderful. Thank you, San Francisco Bay!
– Ben E., Staff Attorney

I’m grateful for the variety and wonder of the Bay. It’s incredible that the Bay Area contains so many different kinds of places all in one location. It’s like being able to travel to a different part of the planet, but just be on the other side of the hill. There’s such diversity here, you can get something new and interesting anywhere you go.
– Evan D., Treasurer, Board of Directors

I love the peace the Bay brings when you see the sun shining, the ripples glistening, and the white caps following each other in perfect unison.
– Léa P., Development Manager

Misty, grey, and wild,
The Bay binds us together.
We are one people.
– Mark W., Communications Director

I am most thankful for the diversity that the Bay represents. From its unique native fish fauna, to all the birds it hosts, to the way the same view looks so different from day-to-day, to the diversity of people and communities that surround the Bay. The Bay represents the variety of life that makes living here so enjoyable.
– Jon R., Senior Scientist

The Bay gives me a sense of peace. It’s centering—even just driving across bridges, running errands, during hectic life. The Bay brings us back to what’s important.
– Caroline K., Board of Directors

Photo: Gail Odom