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Protect the true riches of Treasure Island

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Stacked boats face the Bay Bridge at the Treasure Island Sailing Center in Clipper Cove on Treasure Island on Dec. 8, 2017. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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Last week, the San Francisco Examiner laid out some of the problems with the proposed Treasure Island Clipper Cove Marina project. Fortunately, the project has not yet received final approvals. The public has time to weigh in on two important environmental matters before it is too late.

The first concern is the impact on the underwater eelgrass beds in Clipper Cove. Because of its importance to the health of the ecosystem, eelgrass is known as a “keystone species.” Shellfish, crabs, finfish and waterfowl all use eelgrass. If the eelgrass does well, then so will the species that rely on it. If it does poorly, then its many dependents will suffer. 

In the 1930s, a disease wiped out eelgrass beds along the eastern coast of the United States. That loss of habitat resulted in the extinction of a species of sea snail and a drastic reduction in the number of brandt geese, a small goose that depends on the plant extensively.

Eelgrass is sensitive to water clarity, changes in currents, increases or decreases in sediment and changes in depth of water. Concerns about the fate of the eelgrass in Clipper Cove were brought up early on in Environmental Impact Report comment letters from environmental and other groups. Recently, new concerns have arisen, due to the revelation that a wave attenuator — a kind of breakwater — would be installed in the new marina and might result in increased sedimentation and therefore require yearly dredging. 

The precise impact on the eelgrass beds is not known. A state commission reported the developers felt they could not make an accurate estimate of the extent of future siltation. In response, an eelgrass expert wrote that the impacts could and should be studied. To date, this has not been done.

A second concern is the long-term influence on how young people relate to the environment. One of the problems we face, even in the 21st century, is the lack of confidence expressed by some members of the public in the scientific process. We see this daily as our federal government makes disastrously shortsighted decisions about exploitation of the natural world. 

Education is key to persuading people to protect the environment. Every year, the Treasure Island Sailing Club hosts sailing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) classes for more than 1,500 San Francisco public school fourth graders. The protected cove is an ideal, and uniquely safe, learning environment for young children. Many are low-income youth who would otherwise never have the opportunity to experience being on the water in the Bay. 

Unfortunately, the proposed marina project would expand the existing dock areas for many more — and larger — yachts, to more than 30 percent of the cove. This would result in the loss of much of the protected sailing area and have a negative impact on the STEM program. 

Many of us can trace our appreciation of nature to personal contact with the natural world when we were very young.  Today’s youth deserves the same opportunity to experience nature first-hand. The future of life as we know it on this planet depends on the next generation developing a profound understanding of and commitment to the environment.

As a result of the potential negative educational and environmental impacts of the Clipper Cove project, the Sierra Club joins the San Francisco Unified School District’s science department, San Francisco Bay Keeper and elementary school teachers from all over San Francisco to ask The City to support the minimum impact alternative to this project.   

We hope members of the public contact the Board of Supervisors and Mayor’s Office, asking for a down-sized project that protects both the youth programs and the eelgrass habitat.

Katherine Howard is an open space advocate and a member of the executive committee of the SF Group of the Sierra Club.

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