By Christopher Lim
The San Francisco Bay’s native Olympia Oyster is taking small steps toward a restored future in our estuary. The Watershed Project’s Living Shoreline Initiative is helping promote that future by building relationships in the community, with volunteers, students, and teachers.
Native oysters already reside in the Bay, but in low numbers due to a lack of suitable habitat for baby oysters, called “spats.” Spats must attach to hard surfaces along the shoreline, something that is currently in short supply. To protect these important creatures from disappearing from the Bay entirely, The Watershed Project, the San Francisco Bay Native Oyster Working Group and the Marin Rod and Gun Club joined forces to build and monitor habitat for native oysters.
Through this unique partnership and the determination of many volunteers, there are currently two oyster reefs in the Bay, one at the Marin Rod and Gun Club and the other in the Berkeley Marina. Now, The Watershed Project is making plans to build another reef at Pt. Pinole Regional Shoreline. This reef will make history as the first ever community-constructed oyster reef in the San Francisco Bay.
Oyster monitoring, which includes measuring and counting spats, occurs twice a year– in the late summer and early fall. The Watershed Project has engaged enthusiastic community volunteers to support the monitoring program with their energy, devotion, and curiosity. During our most recent sampling and monitoring cycle, over 30 volunteers contributed 120 hours of their time to call out their spat measurements in millimeters, “4 … 11 … 8.”
This past fall, The Watershed Project’s education team has been worked to roll out our revamped Oysters on the Half Shell educational program. We are forming partnerships with local high schools to establish a set of recurring classroom visits. The program teaches a cohesive curriculum that incorporates the big picture, such as ocean currents and upwelling, as well as the tiny details, such as the benefits of oysters being filter feeders. To provide the students with a tangible outdoor experience, we take the students on two field trips to active oyster restoration sites. Still relatively new, this program will reach over 150 Bay Area high school students this school year.
Our students will visit and take an active role in building our oyster reef at Pt. Pinole. With the help of our burgeoning oyster community, we look forward to connecting Bay Area students and residents to the underwater dance of life along our precious shorelines.
Photos (from top to bottom): Students coming face to face with oysters at one of our partner sites, Pickleweed Point Community Shellfish Farm; Volunteers monitoring oyster bags at Marin Rod and Gun Club; Measuring and counting spats at one of The Watershed Project’s native oyster counting parties.