Reducing Pollution to the San Francisco Bay

By Corey Chan

When we think about plastic pollution, sad images of bay and ocean animals harmed and killed by floating plastic trash often come to mind. In KIDS for the BAY programs, we are solutions-focused. Our curriculum explores promoting healthy watersheds and teaching our young environmentalists how pollution gets into the bay and ocean, and how to prevent that pollution from getting into our environment in the first place. Our bay model activity is a great tool that helps our students discover how pollution can affect our local San Francisco Bay, and ultimately the Pacific Ocean as well. 

Fourth grade students in Keith Brazil’s and Melissa Catalano’s classes at Castro Valley Elementary School, participating in the KIDS for the BAY Storm Drain Rangers Program,  knew that there should be clean water to drink in a healthy watershed. Kayley and David also shared, “There should not be any plastic in the bay or ocean or other big bodies of water.” Jacob added, “I am picturing thriving sea animals that live in healthy watersheds!” Landon explained, “There should be grass, trees, healthy growing plants, and green spaces.” Students were excited to create a model of the San Francisco Bay watershed with these components of a healthy watershed in mind. 

Each bay model created included rivers, the Pacific Ocean, the San Francisco Bay and the land surrounding the watershed. Each student group made clay bridges and islands in the bay, and placed several small animals in the different water bodies that made up their models. Students were very thoughtful about the placement of their animals. Gabby wondered, “How do we know which animals live in saltwater, freshwater, or brackish water?” To help students decide, KIDS for the BAY Educator Yvette Diaz Samayoa asked the class, “Where might sharks live?” “They live in saltwater like the Pacific Ocean!” answered Wenbo. “My dad also saw a shark here in the bay! He is a fisherman and saw the shark right over here in the south bay! That must mean they also live in brackish water,” added Ethan. Another group spent some time discussing where their fish, crab, and walrus should go, finally deciding that the walrus would be in the hills at the Oakland Zoo since they are not naturally found in the Bay Area! 

A pivotal point in the bay model activity is when students add a few drops of yellow dye to their models to simulate what might happen to pollution that enters the bay. As the yellow drops were added to each model, students cried out, “Nooo!” Gabriel called out, “Save the animals!” Adrian responded, “I am coming to save the day!” as he made a swimming motion in the air with his arms. Savannah observed, “More than half of the ocean is polluted now!” Conner noticed, “In our model the ocean is still blue for now but will probably have pollution soon because of the movement of the tides.” 

In a follow-up discussion about different ways pollution can enter the bay, Landon shared, “Litter can be left by humans and then blow into the bay.” Elise added, “Or it could go down storm drains and enter the bay that way!” The students were eager to get outside and clean up trash in their watershed to prevent this harmful pollution from getting into the bay or the ocean!

At a park near their school, each student group ran off to different areas including the playground, picnic tables, and skate park. At the picnic tables, there were plastic beads from a broken bracelet scattered on the ground. Ariel asked, “Can I keep these beads? I have a collection!” He happily picked them up and placed them in his pocket and then went off to continue looking for trash with his group. Abdelrahman and his group looked between the fallen leaves and grass and noticed some trash to clean up that was hidden by leaves.

In total, both classes of young environmentalists removed 758 pieces of trash, totaling over 16 gallons, from the park!

After the cleanup, students learned how to practice the Five Rs (Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Rot, and Recycle), as alternatives to creating trash and waste that ends up in the landfill. Many students had not heard about “Refuse” and Nathaniel shared an example. “You can refuse plastic items like straws wherever you buy a drink,” he explained. Ariel sharing that he plans to Reuse the beads he found during the trash cleanup. The students felt encouraged and empowered to share their new knowledge about storm drains and the Five Rs with their families and fellow schoolmates in an assembly that they begin to rehearse for in their next KIDS for the BAY lesson!

KIDS for the BAY