Jacoba Charles
About the author

Jacoba Charles is a naturalist and science writer. Her first article, at age eight, was about the behavior of ducks as observed from the roof of her family’s barn. It went unpublished. She later graduated from the Columbia School of Journalism (2007). In addition to writing for Estuary News, her work has appeared in The New York Times, Salon, and Modern Farmer, Bay Nature, Marin Magazine, and various literary publications. Her botany blog can be found at and her website is She lives in Petaluma with her family.

Articles by Jacoba Charles

Finding Her Way to Fish: Denise Colombano

The path into a career is not always a straightforward one. “I hated school. I mean, hated school,” says Denise Colombano, a postdoctoral fellow and Delta Science Fellow working on fisheries research at UC Berkeley. Today, Colombano feels that it is important to talk about her story as a way of encouraging inclusiveness and opportunity within her field — and in the sciences in general.  “I actually flunked ninth grade, and was attending a continuation school, when my science teacher...
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The Complexities of Monitoring Steelhead

For more than two decades, steelhead — listed as federally threatened in 1997 — have been monitored throughout the state. However, until recently that monitoring has been a haphazard affair. Each local jurisdiction has established a different system, using different methods with different degrees of intensity, according to a 2018 study examining monitoring within the Central Valley and its environs. In some areas, primarily the Sacramento River watershed, which drains the vast northern part of the valley, data has been...
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Little Mud, Lotta Work

For decades, patches of Creekside Marsh at Hal Brown Park in Corte Madera lay barren. “There wasn’t a single thing growing,” says Sandy Guldman, 80, a recently retired environmental consultant who is also president of the nonprofit group Friends of Corte Madera Creek Watershed. “The soil was all old fill.” Many of the bare patches are now covered with planted and volunteer pickleweed, saltgrass, marsh baccharis, and more. The remainder is at least partially vegetated, thanks to a recently completed...
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New Eyes on Floods and Fire

By Jacoba Charles Flames have become the unofficial face of climate change for Sonoma County, in the wake of the catastrophic Tubbs and Kincade fires that tore through the northern parts of the county in 2017 and 2019. Together the two fires burned more than 114,000 acres, roughly a tenth of the county, claimed 22 lives, and destroyed almost 5,000 homes. However, increased frequency and severity of wildfire is only one of the many ways that climate change is poised...
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Microtrash Tiresome for Watersheds

By Jacoba Charles As many as 30 particles of microplastic smaller than five millimeters in diameter are discharged with every liter of stormwater, according to a report published by the San Francisco Estuary Institute and 5Gyres last October. “A big proportion of what we saw were black rubbery fragments,” says SFEI’s Diana Lin, a lead author of the report. Apart from these likely biproducts of tire wear and tear, hair-like threads of fiber were the other main type of microplastics...
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While the acreage of wetland restoration projects is growing throughout the Delta, scientists are still working to understand how best to help these areas become fully functioning, complex habitat as quickly and successfully as possible.

A study published in September’s San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science shed light on some essential questions about what triggers seed generation in wetland habitat. “Wetland restoration practices can be enhanced by a solid understanding of basic plant life history and species ecology,” says co-author Taylor Sloey of Yale-NUS College in Singapore. The researchers looked at three questions: what seeds are present in the seed bank (the viable seeds that accumulate naturally in the soil), and how exposure to cold...
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Just Shy of Splendor in the Grass

By Jacoba Charles Tobias Rohmer and Ben Chen’s careful work in Hayward’s Cogswell Marsh represents one small moment in the massive, nearly 20-year-old Invasive Spartina Project. To date an initial total of 805 acres of non-native cordgrass, spread across 70,000 acres of the San Francisco Bay’s marshlands, has been reduced to less than 40 net acres. Treatment of the southern section of Cogswell marsh was halted in 2011, however, due to concerns about Ridgway’s rails who’d made homes in the...
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Manuel Oliva’s career has been focused on climate change and conservation since his days as an engineering graduate student at the University of Maryland.

“I’ve done the entire spectrum, from the federal to the state to the NGO perspective,” says the incoming CEO of Point Blue, the Petaluma-based nonprofit focused on environmental conservation and research. “This gives me a really good overview on how to best support our work as an organization.” Most recently Oliva was an acting director of the Development Resources and Disaster Assistance Division at the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service. His work there focused on climate-smart agriculture projects, such as working...
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Attention to Outcomes

By Jacoba Charles The new Wetland Regional Monitoring Program, funded through an EPA Region 9 Wetlands Program Development Grant and managed by the San Francisco Estuary Partnership, aims to revolutionize the way that data is collected and shared about one of the Bay Area’s most fragile yet resilient ecosystems — wetlands. “Monitoring data sits on shelves when there is an incredible opportunity to use it to inform critical management questions for the region,” says Heidi Nutters of the Estuary Partnership....
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Greening Dickson’s Heights

Looking east from the levee-top trail, a silvery swath of bay is dotted with low islands -- some tufted with plants, others mere muddy humps that barely break the surface. This is low tide at the nearly 1,000-acre Sears Point wetland restoration project on the western side of San Pablo Bay. The islands, 500 in all, are actually man-made mounds, scattered across the mudflat as an integral part of the restoration design. Each is roughly 60 feet across and was...
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Scrutinizing the Margins

Bay margins are often mucky, fertile, out-of-the-way places. In the last decade, however, the edges of the San Francisco Bay have caught the attention of San Francisco Estuary Institute scientists as unexpected sources of pollution--and, potentially, of solutions. “The idea that you could make a big difference by just cleaning up the margins is attractive because it scales down the problem quite a bit,” says Phil Trowbridge of the Regional Monitoring Program. Historically, scientists considered the Bay akin to a...
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Resprout Photo Essay

Spending time in the burned zones is an almost overwhelming assault on the senses; this is a familiar world inverted. The colors, textures, shapes, and smells are all unfamiliar. That which should be green is black. That which should be inside is out. That which should be standing has fallen. Nothing, it seems, can be taken for granted.
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“Sometimes doing nothing is the best option” is just one of the sometimes counterintuitive tips for post-fire restoration compiled by the Napa County Resource Conservation District in the wake of October’s North Bay firestorm.

A new web page simply titled “Fire” contains a suite of online resources for land owners and managers. From finding sources of invasive-free native plant seed to recommending that burned soils be left undisturbed wherever possible (so as to maintain their natural hydrophobic properties, which help prevent erosion), the website offers a trove of tips to help maximize the recovery of a healthy landscape in a series of “After the Fire” fact sheets that include titles such as Dos and Don’ts,...
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Bridges - public shore

Drought Contingency

Motivated by the recent drought, local water agencies have formed an unprecedented partnership aimed at reducing the impact of future dry spells. The Bay Area Regional Reliability partnership consists of eight of the region’s larger water districts. “For the first time in the history of water deliver in the Bay Area, the water utilities are talking about how to assist each other when there is a shortage.”
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Corte Madera’s Flood Fight Goes On and On

If you peek through the chain link fence behind the Ross Post Office in Marin County, you will see a suburban creek that looks much like any other. Some sections of bank are armored with riprap and wire, others with concrete, and others not at all. Scattered alders grow at the edge of water that riffles over stone and around muddy bends. If you peek through the chain link fence behind the Ross Post Office in Marin County, you will...
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Unhealthy Fiber in Bay Diet

Millions of tiny pieces of plastic, each less than five millimeters wide, are flowing into San Francisco Bay each day. This minute debris—known as microplastic—is a growing environmental concern for water bodies worldwide as it evades filtration and mimics food consumed by wildlife. Now, a recent study found that San Francisco Bay has higher concentration of microplastic pollution than the handful of other major U.S. water bodies that have been studied, including the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay. Now, a...
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