The Case of the Missing Birds at Aquatic Park

Nov 19, 2020

Last fall, paddlers at Berkeley’s Aquatic Park noticed something wrong. 

The water had become cloudy and oily, the normally plentiful fish and birds were nowhere to be seen, and the water level was unusually high. The area was also exuding a nasty, pungent smell. Baykeeper received messages through our pollution hotline and Facebook page from paddlers asking what was going on with this popular recreational spot. Renowned kayaker John Dye posted that he was mystified: “Dumping? Sewage? Urban runoff? I’ve paddled here since 1988 and never seen anything like it,” he wrote. 

So our field investigation team kicked into gear, partnering with local activists, recreational users, and City of Berkeley officials to determine what had happened.

What we found came as a surprise—Aquatic Park had worms. Tide-tube tubeworms, to be exact.

Tube Worms

Aquatic Park is linked to the Bay through nine tubes, which—when functioning properly—sluice water in and out with the tides. But over time, the tubes had become clogged with debris, plants, and huge numbers of tubeworms, an invasive species (pictured, right).

Months earlier, the city had reported that only one of the Park’s tubes was functioning, and at 20 percent capacity. But the city had shelved plans to clean the tubes, which exacerbated the problem until Aquatic Park was so choked with stagnant water that it became uninhabitable to some wildlife and both harmful and disgusting to people.

Today, the situation is completely different. Due to advocacy by the paddlers, local environmentalists from the Aquatic Park Action Committee, and Baykeeper, the city cleaned the tubes and also put in place a long-term maintenance plan to help prevent this from happening again​.

​This simple, quick, and low-cost approach has made all the difference in the world. 

Now the Bay’s tides freely circulate through Aquatic Park, clearing out the smell and the scum, and welcoming paddlers, fish, and birds back to this beloved part of the East Bay.

Baykeeper is thankful to the pollution tipsters for bringing this to our attention so we could help the wildlife and community have clean water. If you have a pollution tip for us, please contact us here.  

Pictured, below: Aquatic Park's tide tubes, before and after being cleaned and maintained by the city, creating a huge improvement in water quality. 

Tubes before and after

Photo of tubeworms and of tubes prior to cleaning courtesy of the City of Berkeley. Tide tube photo on the right by Baykeeper. 

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