Bay Crossings Article

Investigating Pollution by Land, Air, and Water

Sejal Choksi-Chugh
From the December 2019 edition of Bay Crossings

What I saw on the San Francisco Bay shoreline that day worried me. 

I asked our volunteer skipper, Robert, to maneuver the Baykeeper boat closer. Since the last time we'd been to the site, more heavy industrial equipment had piled up near the water. And more barges were crowding the dock. It looked likely that during storms, toxic pollutants would run off into the Bay.  

We needed evidence. So the next time it rained, Baykeeper's field investigator paddled to the site by kayak. She battled high waves, wind, and cold temperatures to get under the dock and collect a sample of water running off into the Bay. We then sent the water to a lab to test for heavy metals and other toxic contaminants. 

To stop pollution, we first have to find it. A lot of San Francisco Bay's shoreline is privately owned, fenced, guarded, and hidden from public view. From land, it's challenging to investigate these areas. That's why Baykeeper's scientists and attorneys regularly patrol the Bay shoreline from our boat. Gathering evidence is the first step we take to force polluters to stop harming the Bay. 

Investigating Bay pollution is complex work. And we don't do it alone. 

We have partners who help Baykeeper protect the Bay we all love. Robert and the rest of Baykeeper's team of 12 volunteer skippers are indispensable to our boat patrols. 

Since some polluters can't be investigated from water either, Baykeeper takes to the air. We partner with Lighthawk Conservation Flying's volunteer pilots who own small planes, and Autonomous Imagery's volunteer drone operators, to detect pollution that can only be seen from above.

We have other support for our investigations, too. Oru Kayak recently donated a foldable, portable kayak called “The Bay” to get us to places our boat can't reach. And our newest partner, Insta360, donated camera gear to help us capture live videos to record evidence of pollution. 

And we have one more important partner – you! Bay Area residents are our additional eyes on the water. You can contact Baykeeper's Pollution Hotline with tips when you see contamination in the Bay. If you see or suspect Bay pollution, report it to us at baykeeper.org. From land, air, and water, our team will investigate and hold the polluters accountable to protect San Francisco Bay. 

Photo by Robb Most.