Bay Nature magazineSpring 2024

Bay Nature Local Heroes

Local Heroes 2024: Katharyn Boyer, Environmental Educator

March 21, 2024
(Illustration by Violeta Encarnación)

Professor Katharyn Boyer, interim executive director of San Francisco State University’s Estuary and Ocean Science Center (EOS) in Tiburon, did not grow up near the ocean. But at summer camp on the Chesapeake Bay, at age 11, she dug into the sand—and marveled at its treasures. Clams! Then she wondered what else was down there, and why it stank. She met people, too—oyster farmers and crabbers—who made a living on the bay. Here was a whole gorgeous world sparking her curiosity. “I was just smitten,” she says.

Now she’s the one revealing the shoreline’s treasures to young people. Some are high schoolers or community members from underserved groups, helping to build experimental reefs or restore eelgrass in San Francisco Bay and learning that climate change can mean jobs. Most are SFSU master’s students. Katharyn inculcates in them skepticism and the principles of ecology, and also how those principles work in the real world—dragging them to meetings with government officials, for example. There is no textbook for her class on restoration ecology, because everyone, Katharyn included, is scrambling to figure out how to achieve it. How to bring back our shorelines, and keep them alive in the face of a rising sea, in all their dynamic messiness. And how to do it fast. “We need to come up with the elegant experiment, or survey, or monitoring project, that helps us get that clarity about how to move forward,” Katharyn says. “I feel this really extreme sense of urgency.”

The 2024 Bay Nature Local Hero Awards

Every year, the Bay Nature board chooses four community-nominated leaders who are changing Bay Area nature and communities for the better. “These are folks who speak with their actions and choices over days, years, and decades and motivate us all to do the same,” writes our editor in chief, Victoria Schlesinger. Here are profiles of the 2024 award winners:

Yakuta Poonawalla, Community Hero Award

Naji Lockett, Young Leader Award

Kellyx Nelson, Conservation Action Award

Restorations live or die on the practical details: what size grain of sand will stay put when the tide comes in, how a concrete reef can be made light enough for one person to handle. (For Katharyn wants the community, not just cranes, to rebuild our shorelines.) On the board outside  Katharyn’s mud lab, a student had tacked up a sign: “GET DIRTY.” 

Lately, Katharyn has focused everything on saving the EOS, one of the few science labs where such questions can be answered. In 2022 SFSU’s administration declared the 45-year-old center would have to scrounge up its own funding to stay open. Katharyn’s team began churning out grant applications. Money has begun to come in. She aims to make shutting down the center an impossibility.

In a blustery winter rainstorm, just off a dock that was once the U.S. Navy’s property, pelicans preen atop the lab’s experimental reefs, where they poke above the water. Drop a simple structure—bags of oyster shells, or big concrete wiffle balls—and complexity moves in. Life loves irregularities. “There’s room for your amphipods and your isopods and your worms, and your algae and your bryozoans, and whatever else. Mussels, sometimes,” Katharyn says, still marveling at the treasures. Then the fish, and the pelicans. Make it appealing enough, and they can hardly say no.

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About the Author

Kate Golden is Bay Nature's digital editor. Her background is in investigative, data-driven, and science journalism, and she has reported from rural Australia to the Bering Sea. She is also an artist, cyclist and sailor. Send tips to kate at, or find her on IG at @meownderthal.