California’s San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge is a living classroom

Mare Island Technology Academy students observe a crab collected in San Pablo Bay.

© Naomi Feger

Mare Island Technology Academy students observe a crab collected in San Pablo Bay.

When the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge is your backyard, it is the perfect place to learn about wetland ecology and restoration.

This spring, DU partnered with the Refuge and Friends of the Refuge to bring the classroom into the field. Middle school students from the Mare Island Technology (MIT) Academy experienced a full day in the North Bay wetlands, with no shortage of mud, wind, or sunshine.

Cargill funded the opportunity for DU and partners to share our passion for the San Francisco estuary with these students and Cargill staff members participated in the final field trip.

The Cargill partnership is being used as a match for San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority Measure AA funding for San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge Collaborative Restoration Partnership grant.

The field trips were the culmination of an ecological education program for classes of 7th-grade students from MIT Academy. Leading up to the field trips, Francesca Demgen of Friends of San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge provided students with information on the history, ecology, and landscape changes in the San Pablo Baylands.

The field day included stops to Cullinan Ranch and Sears Point where students identified waterbirds and wetland plants, sampled for invertebrates, and experimented with collecting water samples using student-built robots.

DU biologists introduced seventh graders to the importance of waterfowl hunters as conservationists and discussed resident and migratory waterbirds and their habitats. Students practiced identifying waterfowl and shorebirds with binoculars and spotting scopes, a first-time experience for most of the students.

Through these two field trips, and with the support of numerous volunteers, over 60 middle schoolers explored the San Pablo Baylands. When Refuge Manager Melisa Amato asked the group who had visited the Refuge before, only one student raised their hand, despite being only 10 minutes from their school. Now 60 hands can be raised, and students’ memories of the sights, sounds and feel of the baylands will last a lifetime.

Ducks Unlimited Inc. is the world's largest nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving North America's continually disappearing waterfowl habitats. Established in 1937, Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 15 million acres thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across the continent. Guided by science and dedicated to program efficiency, DU works toward the vision of wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever. For more information on our work, visit www.ducks.org.