Millions of tiny engineers—the size of a quarter—are busy beneath the surface of San Francisco Bay, filtering water, stabilizing shorelines, and providing habitat and food for other animals. These oysters, says Rowan Jacobsen, author of The Living Shore, and keynote speaker at our Bubbles & Bivalves event, are ecosystem engineers, especially in estuaries like San Francisco Bay.
Writes Rowan, “They transform estuaries from algae factories into the most productive protein factories on earth. The transformation takes many paths. It goes from sunlight to algae to oysters. From sunlight to algae to harpacticoids to salmon. From sunlight to kelp to abalone to sea otters. From sunlight to eelgrass to sea worms to striped bass. And the best thing about this diversity is that more than a few of these paths lead to us… Oysters create the condos, streets, schools, restaurants, parks, and even the water treatment plants of thriving undersea communities, and the great conversation of life begins.”
Rowan cheered on our Living Shoreline project, designed to attract the native Olympia oyster, at Point Pinole. “It may seem like a small thing, but if we can get things like this right, a lot of other stuff will fall in place.” In other words, if we encourage these small, often unseen creatures to colonize, and let them do their jobs, we can make our Bay more resilient to environmental changes to come.
In The Living Shore, Rowan offers a more poetic view of these unassuming engineers, based on his observations of a remote shoreline in the Pacific Northwest:
“When the full moon hauls back the waters, they emerge, a glittering bank along the shore, like doubloons washed up from the wreck of a Spanish galleon. They close their shells tight, and for a few hours, become land… From a distance you might think they were glinting rocks, just another cobbly beach, rather than acres of living coastline. But if you stepped out of your boat and explored, old shells popping softly beneath your boots, you’d smell their salt-spray aroma and hear the crackling of receding water droplets and know that they were the living sea itself, holding on to the land to keep it from squirming away. And if you sat down among them and pried open some shells and tipped the briny flesh into your mouth, you might get some sense of how it had always been.”
Photo credits: Francisco Lux (of fghlux.com) and Linda Hunter