San Francisco's Underwater Settlers

Academy researchers and students use settling plates to inventory life at the bottom of the Bay.

In San Francisco, teachers and students are no longer simply learning about scientific findings. Through the Academy's San Francisco Bay:2K project, many are now making the finds themselves. This project, created by members of the Academy's research and education staff, was designed to document the Bay's bottom-dwelling animals while teaching local teachers and students about specimen collection, identification, and data analysis.

Since the project started two years ago, nearly 200 marine species have been collected and identified from the Bay - many by local students. Roberta Ayres, the project's chief educator, has helped high school interns at the Academy to tailor a settling-plate experiment for use in the Bay:2K project.

Throughout the summer months, interns attached settling plates made from PVC or wood to docks at the Berkeley Marina. They varied the depth and location of the plates in order to attract the widest possible array of species and monitored the plates every few weeks to count the number and type of animals that had settled on their surfaces. Their results have now been incorporated into the Bay: 2K database and their methods are being taught to Bay area teachers. The settling-plate experiment is an extremely cost-effective way to expose students to scientific methods, as well as the wonders of the Bay Area.

Naaman Ho and Maya Walton, Level 2 interns in the Academy's Careers in Science program, identify and count species on their settling plates, retrieved from the Bay after two months of field work.
Photo: Roberta Ayres
Roberta Ayres, Academy SF Bay: 2K educator, helps Naaman Ho, Academy intern, prepare his settling plate at the Berkeley Marina. Interns selected three variables for their experimentation: settling plate material (wood or PVC), depth (1 or 2 meters) and location (mostly sun or mostly shade).
Photo: Ashley Conrad-Saydah.
Benthic organisms settled on a PVC plate after several weeks of growth. Participants in the settling plate experiment learned to identify all the organisms by Latin name and are currently developing dichotomous keys to aid in the identification of the most common species they studied.
Photo: Ashley Conrad-Saydah.