Bringing Science Downtown
“Why is the ocean salty?” “Why do pigeons bob their heads when they walk?” “Can crows remember faces?” These are just a few of the questions that have popped up on the San Francisco Bay Reserve’s nature walks with Downtown Streets Team.
The Downtown Streets Team supports adults experiencing homelessness or extreme poverty through volunteer cleanups and beautification projects. After hearing about their work, Bella Mayorga, the Reserve’s education coordinator, was inspired to diversify the audience for Reserve education programs, while supporting a community-based organization. Mayorga connected with Streets Team staff members, who were excited about the opportunity to participate in hands-on nature programming at transportation-accessible parks and shorelines.
The first walk, at the Shoreline Park waterfront, drew 15 team members and Streets Team staff. Binoculars in hand, Team members encountered waterfowl and songbirds that most people tend to overlook, including cormorants, egrets, mallards, pelicans, crows, and sparrows. In later outings at Pickleweed Park and China Camp State Park, the group observed juvenile golden eagles. Already active stewards of the San Francisco Bay Estuary through their litter and debris removal, Team members quickly made connections between their volunteer work and the health of wetland animals that they saw.
The focus of the walks has broadened to include moments of quiet and stillness to reap some of the social-emotional benefits of time spent in natural environments. Coastal Training Program Coordinator Aimee Good and NOAA Office for Coastal Management Liaison Melis Ökter have started attending, fielding questions from curious team members and enjoying the wave of energy and sense of community distinctive to the group.