Wednesday September 28, 2022


On August 2, as Damon Tighe was taking off from Oakland airport, he saw a dark channel in the water below forming near Alameda, an island on the eastern side of San Francisco Bay. At first, the community scientist thought it was an oil spill, but he soon realized it was algae. He still remained concerned. If the algae turned into a harmful bloom that spread across the bay, it could have disastrous consequences, Tighe knew. So, once he returned home, he kept an eye on it during his daily trips to monitor the bay’s shoreline.

By the end of August, Tighe’s worst fears had come true: As many as 10,000 fish went belly up at Lake Merritt, a tidal estuary in the heart of Oakland connected to San Francisco Bay. Tighe walked less than a mile around the lake on August 29, counting more than 522 striped bass, 39 bat rays, and tens of thousands of northern anchovies, topsmelt silversides, and yellowfin gobies—all dead. He quickly organized an iNaturalist page for community members to document “the harrowing event,” and soon sightings of white sturgeon, dungeness crabs, endangered green sturgeon, and other animals were also reported.

Located straight east across the bay from the Golden Gate Bridge, Lake Merritt’s 3.4-mile loop path is trafficked by thousands of walkers, runners, and bikers each day. “A good portion of the community for the first time was seeing the life of the lake,” Tighe says, “but it was only because it was dying.”

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