It’s a beautiful photograph in a slick magazine. Vanity Fair’s Summer 2018 issue has a feature article titled “Clear the Coast: A Band of Passionate Californians Is Fighting To Keep Crucial Waterways Clean” and the photograph was taken in Rancho Palos Verdes.
Jennifer Kalt, the director of Humboldt Baykeeper is third from the right, wearing her well worn field vest over a Humboldt Baykeeper T-shirt. Thanks for representing!
“It was hilarious. I’ll never look at a glossy magazine photo the same again,” Kalt said. “It was hours and hours with a whole crew doing makeup and clothes. They told me to bring my typical field clothes but I told them that I didn’t think rain gear would work on a beach. My field vest has been a lot of places,” she said with a laugh.
They posed for hours and the final picture was taken in “that golden hour right before sunset.”
The author of the piece, Bruno Navasky, drove from San Diego to Klamath, taking a month to interview the directors of the various organizations.
“He spent eight hours here, driving around with me. He had a tour of the bay on the Hog Island Oyster Company boat, and walked around the Arcata Marsh,” Kalt said. “The really cool thing about him is that he is working on a children’s book. He wants to broaden children’s horizons about professional opportunities.”
Kalt herself would be a good role model in that book. With a background in science (B.S. in botany and a M.A. in biology) Kalt uses her knowledge in a variety of settings: out in the field, in the classroom, in offices, and lobbying for clean water everywhere she can.
She is a lecturer at Humboldt State University “part-time, semester by semester,” where her students appreciate her local knowledge. She still does consulting jobs, specializing as a rare plant surveyor. Since 2014 she has been the director of Humboldt Baykeeper and before that she was the policy director for thee years and before that she acted as a consultant for the organization, “mostly with citizen water monitoring programs.”
Humboldt Baykeeper was “launched in October 2004 to safeguard our coastal resources for the health, employment, and economic strength of the Humboldt Bay community. . .” according to its website. That translates to watching streams from Little River to Elk River, the Humboldt Bay watershed and the coast from Trinidad Head to the mouth of the Eel River. That’s a lot of water to watch over.
“One of the things I love about it is that we are not just protecting water for environmental reasons but for people who use the water for fishing, swimming, or drinking,” Kalt said. “It’s more holistic than most environmental groups protecting nature for nature’s sake. We see humans as part of nature – a healthy fishing industry, recreation, and tourism are all part of that. Our oyster industry is thriving here and they are entirely dependent on clean water.”
Kalt explained that Humboldt Bay is the only body of water that has no oyster diseases. “They can raise seed for other places,” she said, “and the oyster seed industry is booming.”
Humboldt Baykeeper has just finished a study of mercury in fish in Humboldt Bay using an Environmental Justice Grant. The result is an informational handout titled “Eating Fish Safely: Guidelines for Humboldt Bay.”
“We sampled fish and shellfish in the bay,” Kalt explained. “The reason we did it was that the state did a survey and found the highest levels of mercury in the state of California in a leopard shark in Humboldt Bay. We thought it would be wise to get more information.”
There is no direct source of mercury in Humboldt County but mercury can travel from Pennsylvania or China or India where coal is burnt into the atmosphere and then descend on the bay in rain and fog. Kalt said that some mercury was the result of gold mining and found in the Klamath and Trinity rivers but none in the Eel.
The handout gives advice about what fish to eat for women aged 45 and under and for children. A different set of guidelines are also given for women over 45 and for men. It was printed in Spanish and English and is also being translated into Hmong. It has been distributed through First 5 of Humboldt, Open Door’s prenatal services, the county’s public health and at other events such as health fairs and banquets.
The emphasis on other languages is part of the organization’s mission. Kalt wanted to credit their part time Bay Tours Coordinator, Jasmin Segura, for her excellent tours for ESL students out on the bay. Humboldt Baykeeper is working with Maryann Hytken’s ESL school, English Express. They’ve given classes to employees at Coast Seafood and have led walks on the new waterfront trail in Eureka. Segura is fluent in Spanish and enjoys teaching the names of local flora and fauna on the walks.
“We charter the Madaket to do tours,” Kalt said, adding that they’ve had students from Thailand, the Philippines, and the Ukraine as well.
Vanity Fair isn’t the only national magazine to notice the accomplishments of Humboldt Baykeeper. Waterkeeper, the national magazine published in New York by the Waterkeeper Alliance, featured Humboldt Baykeeper in a recent issue, focusing on the work that Kalt had done to reduce pollution in the bay. “In late 2015 Humboldt Baykeeper rode a tidal wave of Clean Water Act victories aimed at reducing pollution in California’s second largest natural estuary, filing four court actions, and winning each time,” Lesley Adams wrote. The photographs that accompanied that article were nothing like the style of Vanity Fair, but the message was the same: Humboldt Baykeeper is doing good work and getting noticed for it.