By Jacoba Charles

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 massive bathtub where water pours in, mixes up, and bathes all its contents equally. A 2010 study made the surprising discovery that small fish living in the margins had higher concentrations of PCBs than larger, open water fish. While challenges remain, at least scientists are now looking for the results of their cleanup efforts in the right places.

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Scrutinizing the Margins

By Jacoba Charles

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 massive bathtub where water pours in, mixes up, and bathes all its contents equally. A 2010 study made the surprising discovery that small fish living in the margins had higher concentrations of PCBs than larger, open water fish. While challenges remain, at least scientists are now looking for the results of their cleanup efforts in the right places.

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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 It went unpublished.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 flowersofmarin.com and her website is jacobacharles.com. She lives in Petaluma with her family.

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