Saving the Ecological Sanctuary of an Estuary

October 12, 2016Farah AnwarNPF Blog
Crew with heavy machinery working on cleaning massive debris out of Point Reyes National Seashore
– Daniel Dietrich
The restoration of Point Reyes’ Drakes Estero

In the heart of Point Reyes National Seashore, just a short 90-minute drive from the Bay Area, visitors have the chance to experience the only West Coast marine wilderness area south of Alaska and one of the most pristine estuaries in California.

The 2,500-acre estuary complex known as Drakes Estero is made up of five branching bays which are home to thousands of species of fish, wildlife, birds, and mammals. Together they provide protection, shelter, and food for many species, but aquaculture debris has altered the delicate ecosystem of this marine wilderness.

Machinery on dock picking debris out from Point Reyes Bay National Seashore

Daniel Dietrich

To restore the ecological balance of the estuary complex, efforts are underway to remove and clean up five miles of oyster racks and 500 tons of marine debris to allow eelgrass beds, which are critical to the reproduction of fish and overall health of the estuary, to expand into areas covered in debris.

With a $2M matching grant from the National Park Foundation, the National Park Service in collaboration with their partner Point Reyes National Seashore Association is working to protect and restore this native estuary.

Restoration efforts are focused on removal of oyster racks, marine debris and non-native shellfish, and restoration monitoring. The marine debris includes oyster strings, tubes, bags, oyster mats, and abandoned anchors and lines.

Due to established eelgrass habits, the removal of oyster racks is the most involved and extensive piece of the undertaking, as their removal must be done in such a way so as not to damage the critical habitat. Racks are currently being removed with the use of hydraulic equipment, as it allows the greatest flexibility to efficiently remove the racks while also protecting the habitat.

Man in water rigging debris onto machinery to be cleaned out of Point Reyes National Seashore
Daniel Dietrich

The park will conduct ongoing monitoring throughout the restoration process to assess changes in cover of eelgrass, and removal of marine debris and invasive species, as well as to evaluate the success of the efforts and continued protection of this amazing ecosystem. By February of 2017, the restoration work and removal of racks, marine, debris, and non-native shellfish is expected to be completed.

The restoration of Drakes Estero is a profoundly important project that will not only protect this estuary complex for years to come, but will foster a healthier ecosystem, and protect this great place for visitors to enjoy. To help us support projects like this that protect and preserve our national parks, click here.

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