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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: North Bay / Marin | Environment & Forest Defense
New Research Shows Limited Native Oysters Historically In Drakes Estero Refuting Oyster Co
New research published by Sonoma State University's Anthropological Studies Center concludes that native oysters did not play a significant role in the ecology of Drakes Estero. This conclusion confirms that the oyster company's operations artificially modify this wilderness area's natural ecology, and are inconsistent with its natural, historic ecological baseline.
For Immediate Release, April 19, 2012
Contact: Amy Trainer, Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, (415) 306-6052
New Research Refutes Oyster Company Claims about History of Oysters in Drakes Estero
Science Shows Far Fewer Native Oysters Existed In The Estuary’s Ecological Baseline
Point Reyes, California _ New research released last week by the National Park Service and published by archeological experts at Sonoma State University contradicts claims by the Drakes Bay Oyster Company (oyster company) that its commercial non-native oyster production provides a substitute for ecological functions formerly provided by extirpated native oysters that grew naturally. This claim has been a cornerstone of the company’s aggressive campaign to extend commercial use of the Drakes Estero wilderness at Point Reyes National Seashore. The Anthropological Studies Center at Sonoma State examined Native American harvest sites around Drakes Estero and concluded that native oysters did not play a significant role in the ecology of the estuary, which has had a muddy substrate unsuitable for oyster habitat for thousands of years. This conclusion confirms that the oyster company’s operations artificially modify the Estero’s natural ecology, and are inconsistent with the estuary’s natural, historic ecological baseline.
“It’s time for the oyster company and its national park critics to accept peer-reviewed science that directs protecting and restoring the West Coast’s only marine wilderness area,” said Amy Trainer, executive director of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin. “Thousands of people from California and across the country commented on the Draft Environmental Impact Statements overwhelmingly in favor of protecting Drakes Estero as wilderness as long promised by Congress for the benefit of current and future generations.”
The Sonoma State report corrects a major research gap in the 2009 National Research Council report on Drakes Estero, an issue that was acknowledged by the Research Council. The Sonoma State report was based on laboratory analysis that supplemented fieldwork, and concluded that “…the absence of other prehistoric sites in the area containing quantities of native oyster shells makes it unlikely that Drakes Estero was a habitat for a large oyster population in prehistory.”
This study and its October 2011 Addendum are consistent with ethnographic data showing that the Miwok harvested native oysters at only a few places, all outside of the Estero. The Sonoma State studies also correlate with U.S. Geological Survey studies showing only minimal potential habitat for oysters in the Estero, and with coring studies showing the present habitats of the Estero have likely been consistent for thousands of years.
The oyster company has claimed that its cultivation of millions of non-native oysters continues the past practices of the Native American Miwok Indians despite 1) the company’s conversion of major portions of the estuary to non-native species, 2) the company’s use of motorized boats that disturb marine mammals and birds, and 3) the company’s littering of the National Seashore beaches with thousands of pieces of its plastic debris. The oyster company’s illusion of cultural stewardship was previously shattered by a 2007 letter (see attached) wherein the Miwok Tribe requested that the National Park Service “take immediate steps to begin the process of returning Drakes Estero to its natural state.”
Senator Dianne Feinstein has also referenced the oyster company’s incorrect claims that abundant native oysters existed as part of the Estero’s historical ecology. In a May 2009 letter to Interior Secretary Salazar, the Senator stated that “if the Park Service forces the cessation of the mariculture operations, it may well be eliminating conditions that were an important part of the ecosystem.” Senator Feinstein’s continued reference to unscientific information provided by the oyster company and national park critics was outlined in detail in a recent letter to the Interior Department. The Interior Department and Congress have been under continuous pressure by the oyster company’s lobbyists and other advocates to use bogus science to justify blocking marine wilderness protections for the Estero as promised in 1976.
The Senator’s reference has had the negative effect of giving added life to the oyster company owners’ baseless arguments. Wisely, though, the Senator acknowledged in a February 2012 Marin Independent Journal opinion piece that the “transparency that comes with scientific review is a good thing, even when it doesn't support an individual's agenda.”
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is tasked this year with determining whether to uphold the 1976 Congressional designation of marine wilderness protection for Drakes Estero or roll it back to allow the continued unnatural, industrial-scale private use of this public trust resource that has never been under private ownership. Park policies and wilderness laws clearly support protection of this ecologically rich, deservedly designated marine preserve. The archeological studies recently released by the Park Service add further support to this conclusion.