By Christopher Lim
Daily life at Pickleweed Point Community Shellfish Farm is pretty low key. Waves, wind, and a little bit of filter feeding tend to keep the oysters busy. But on April 7th, Pickleweed Point’s bivalves experienced some curious conditions: 50 environmental science high school students from San Rafael’s Terra Linda High School. This field trip was the culmination of the five-visit Wild! Oysters program for high school students, part of the Living Shoreline Initiative.
Steady rain ominously beat down on the school bus roof as we made our way to Pickleweed Point, part of Tomales Bay. To the students’ delight, the rain let up just as we arrived at the Oyster Farm, leaving the brisk wind as our only hindrance (or so we thought…). Farm Director Luc Chamberland led the half-hour hike into Pickleweed Point. Along the way, Luc talked to students about the different ways oysters are farmed in Tomales Bay, including bottom bags, rack and bag, and floating bags.
Once at the farm, the students got to be oyster farmers for a day. Bags brimming with Pacific oysters were turned over, cleared of sediment and inspected for other species, including the invasive Atlantic Oyster Drill, a notorious oyster predator. Then students counted oyster seed, each baby oyster about the size of a penny. The students loaded 100 into each bag, numbered it, and tied it to a line in the intertidal region of the bay. Congratulations to Terra Linda High School students, you are now officially oyster farmers!
Impressive indeed, considering that the heavy rains had turned the sediment into quicksand. Several intrepid student farmers got stuck up to their knees in the mud. Friends helped their classmates slowly break free of the sediment, exposing some very dirty feet and pants and prompting lots of excited story-telling.
The combination of Tomales Bay’s timeless beauty, the students’ fearless enthusiasm, and the hope of growing healthy and delicious oysters added up to an unforgettable day. The Oysters on the Half Shell program will continue to highlight the wonders of the underwater world to local Bay Area students. Muddy pants are optional, of course.