Save our Tomales Bay – part 17, TBOC gets after it in a big way

Click on the words above “Save our Tomales Bay – part 17, TBOC gets after it in a big way” to see this entire post.

As you may have noticed if you’ve been keeping up with the Series “Save our Tomales Bay…”, I have a big problem with people that trash the planet. Same goes for companies that those people often hide behind in the courts.

Apparently Todd and his crew at Tomales Bay Oyster Company do too!

The images below, recorded on 16 May, show the latest of a few big days where the TBOC staff made time to pick up the mess left behind by a previous oyster farmer whose lease they purchased.

Todd tells me he has removed over 3000 of the PVC pipes you see in the images. He likely has several thousand more to go. He tells me he plans to remove those soon. And I believe him.

Kudos to the TBOC crew for their efforts at being a good steward of the very bay they depend upon for their livelihood. The same bay that hundreds, perhaps thousands of species called home long before humans decided to complicate matters with all our trash.

Oyster farmers in California pay into an escrow account when they lease an area. Those funds were designed to be used to pay for cleanup under certain conditions. The problem as I see it is, that fund is inaccessible due to complicated rules. So, the cleanup that should be taking place, especially when leases change hands, never happens. Witness the messes we see in Tomlaes Bay, Drakes Estero and all along the Marin coast, thanks to Johnson’s oysters [now Drakes Bay Oyster Company].

I plan to work with the Fish & Wildlife Commission to change the language in the lease agreement so that no more of these messes get left behind. More on that later.

If the people pushing the California Shellfish Initiative want to expand oyster farming up and down the coast of California, they best get on board with lease agreements that have teeth, stopping all the finger pointing between present and past lease owners over who made the mess. Better yet, define best practices for all oyster farmers such that the mess does NOT get made in the first place.

Anyone that wants a copy of the current lease agreement in use, and is willing to help modify the language to ensure a clean California coast, send me a note and I’ll send you a copy.

As always, click on an image to see a much larger version.

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Next related post may be found here.

Previous related post may be found here.

See the first post in this series “Save our Tomales Bay” here.

Sustainable oyster farming, West Marin style – part 2

Click on the words above “Sustainable oyster farming, West Marin style…” to see this post as it was meant to be seen.

March of 2013, I published the image showing over 5000 black plastic oyster spacer tubes I had picked up. The image shows them in a large pile of black plastic on a tarp in front of the turn-off to the DBOC farm. See it here.

Besides meeting Kevin’s parents the day I made that image (that is a post all in itself), a few months later, Kevin found my blog, had a look around, then sent me a note inviting me over to talk about oyster farming trash. I went out to meet him the same day I photographed this Osprey over Drakes Estero, see it here.

The upshot of what he told me for nearly two hours was, “Richard, all this trash you and others are finding is from Charlie Johnson, not DBOC.”

He also showed me the new way they are growing oysters using long white plastic tubes impregnated with bits of oyster shell, they are called French Tubes.

When I saw them, I commented that I thought I’d only ever picked up one in all my days on the local beaches.

He seemed to think they were the silver bullet to all this lost plastic getting into the ocean.

I thanked him for his time and we parted ways, I did not give French Tubes much more thought. That is until I went diving in Drakes Estero. I wanted to see what was going on under the surface with my own eyes.

Kevin is right, I won’t be picking up those long white tubes from all over the beaches of Point Reyes. The reason being, French Tubes sink!

Have a look for yourself. See the invasive tunicate growing all over them.

This is surely one way to keep your litter out of the public eye.


While hiking back from the mouth of the Estero today with a load of trash (over 60 black tubes) along with all the usual human-waste, I came upon 3 people that wanted to know what all the trash was on my back. After explaining my affliction (the inability to walk past garbage on the beach), I briefly explained the oyster situation to them. The mess in the Estero, the mess I keep finding in Tomales Bay etc.

The young woman looked at me and asked “Is it possible to grow oysters and not make a mess of the environment?”

That is a very good question I told her.

I’ve seen little evidence of it so far. The folks at Hog Island do seem to be improving their practice, looking for ways to lose less gear. TBOC has a long way to go to clean up their practice, I see small efforts and much larger issues to be tackled. The others I cannot speak of accurately.

If one reads the position paper put forth by the California Shellfish Initiative, dated 29 Aug. 2013 It states in part (emphasis mine) …

The California Shellfish Initiative (“Initiative”) is a collaborative effort of growers, regulators, NGO’sand scientists to restore and expand California’s shellfish resources, including oysters, mussels,clams, abalone and scallops.

The Initiative seeks to harness the creative talents of shellfish growers, local, state, and federal resource managers and environmental leaders. The Initiative’s goals are to protect and enhance our marine habitats, foster environmental quality, increase jobs, encourage inter-agency coordination and communication, and strengthen coastal economies. A successful Initiative will engage coastal stakeholders in a comprehensive process to grow California’s $25M sustainable shellfish (bivalve) harvest, restore natural shellfish reefs, protect clean water and enhance healthy watersheds.

I’d be happier if what this says were happening…


As always, click on a picture to see it larger

Oyster farm debris littering the bottom of Drakes Estero

Oyster farm debris littering the bottom of Drakes Estero


As always, click on a picture to see it larger

Oyster farm debris littering the bottom of Drakes Estero

Oyster farm debris littering the bottom of Drakes Estero


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Oyster farm debris littering the bottom of Drakes Estero

Oyster farm debris littering the bottom of Drakes Estero


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Oyster farm debris littering the bottom of Drakes Estero

Oyster farm debris littering the bottom of Drakes Estero


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Oyster farm debris littering the bottom of Drakes Estero

Oyster farm debris littering the bottom of Drakes Estero


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tunicates love oyster racks, oyster bags, oyster tubes. Non-native tunicates!

tunicates love oyster racks, oyster bags, oyster tubes. Non-native tunicates!


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A local jelly floating by

A local jelly floating by



Snorkling near DBOC oyster racks in Drakes Estero



Snorkling near DBOC oyster racks in Drakes Estero


See the next post in this series here

DBOC Denied. Nature Affirmed!

Click on the words “DBOC Denied. Nature Affirmed!” to see this post in its entirety.

Today the ninth circuit denied the appeal for a hearing en banc to allow Drakes Bay Oyster Company to continue to ignore their expired lease to extract money from Drakes Estero in the form of oysters and clams.

En banc Denied

The entire amended opinion may be seen here.

Save our Tomales Bay – part 12 (Millerton style)

Click on the words above “Save our Tomales Bay…” to see this post as it was meant to be seen.

This past weekend we experienced King Tides, exceptionally high (and low) tides that happen this time of year.

To see some even higher tides, go here.

The water was so high I was able to launch my boat from the bridge at Chicken Ranch.

My goal was to head south into some formerly diked off areas to the east that only flood deep enough to get into during high tides. With the added benefit of the high water floating all the human-made plastic for easy finding and retrieval.

Down near Bivalve I recovered a second swim area buoy that had gotten loose and drifted far from its’ usual spot. I found the first one last year, a few hundred meters south of this one.

Paddling back I ran into Dan from Sebastopol, we’d met a few weeks prior a bit north of here. We visited briefly as we recounted how we each enjoyed the high tides. I had to split off to pick up some trash I had cached. Dan was with a large group of paddlers from Petaluma. My plan was to pick up my cache, then stop by Millerton (where they had put in) and visit on my way back as they pulled their boats to the car. As we parted, Dan shouted that he found another duck decoy just then. He found one as well on our first meeting. I too have a pair of found plastic ducks, one pintail and one mallard.

Yet, there was too much trash to pick up and I missed him by moments.

I still stopped at Millerton, a place I had not visited on the water in all my travels in Tomales Bay.

As I approached the shore I began counting tires, one, two three. Large ones. Tractor tires. All within 200 feet of the where the trail hits the water. I was nonplused. All these years I had been out to remote areas of Point Reyes Seashore gathering trash likely never to be seen except by divers or other intrepid adventurers, and here these tires lay in the mud. On the shore for what appears to be decades by the looks of them, not 200 feet from the cars bringing all the dog owners to this busy beach.

I may have missed Dan, I was not going to miss the opportunity to clear the Bay of these huge tires.

Tires all over the shore, and this in the parking lot, two days running. Is this status quo for Millerton?

Tires all over the shore, and this in the parking lot, two days running.
Is this status quo for Millerton?

I had to dig them out of the mud, stand them up, scoop 20-30 pounds of mud out of them and roll them to the hill that leads to the parking lot. As I rolled the first one along the bumpy shore, A man out with his family picnicking got up and walked over to me,

“Do you need some help?” he asked.

“That would be great” was my reply.

“But you are going to get very muddy.” I offered.

“No problem.” was Armando’s response.

Together we rolled it, wobbly, up the hill. He took it the rest of the way to the parking lot. I was off to get another.

“If you get more, my sons and I can help.”

Armando from Berkeley told me he loves to come to this beach with his family. When he saw me struggling with the huge tire, he became inspired.

He and I rolled a second tire, as big as the first up to the lot. I was not sure I was up to a third so I suggested he enjoy the new year day with his family and thanked him for his help.

As I neared my boat, I was drawn to a third tire, laying in the shallow water, filled with mud. This one required a lever and fulcrum to pull it out of the mud. Fiddling with sticks and logs to make my mechanical advantage, Kevin “KC” form Inverness Park saw me and he too asked if he could help. He was dressed even nicer than Armando was. I explained the mud and he would not be deterred. He stripped off his jacket and came right over to help. Together we got another large tire up the hill and out of the Bay.

His wife snapped these photos of us.

KC and I roll a tractor tire out of Tomales Bay to the parking lot for removal.

KC and I roll a tractor tire out of Tomales Bay to the parking lot for removal.


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Afterwards he then offered me a cold beer (which I gladly accepted) and he opened it for me, as my hands were still coated with thick black mud, bleeding profusely from where the barnacles had sliced them.

Thank you KC.

I plucked a fourth tire, this one a tiny 18-wheeler that was on dry ground and rolled it up the hill solo.

This makes fifteen tires pulled from the bay so far.

There are still at least 2-3 more here, as well as a large rear axle from some ancient vehicle of some sort laying in the tiny creek nearby.

I placed the swim buoy in with them. Later I called the state dispatcher for parks and the folks from Samuel Taylor had them taken care of by that evening.

This six cylinder GM engine in the water earlier sure looked out of place. Clearly left by some lazy SOB that had backed his truck up to the cliff next to route 1 and pushed it over, saving a trip over the hill to the recycler. His problem was now everyone’s problem. This is the third block I have found in Tomales Bay. The other two are likely remnants of boat wrecks, both on the west shore.

Just what every body of water needs - NOT.

Just what every body of water needs – NOT.


Oyster grow-out bag filled with bottles and cans. My first toaster and fourth TV.

Oyster grow-out bag filled with bottles and cans. My first toaster and fourth TV.


Four tires, a buoy and two oyster grow-out bags.

Four tires, a buoy and two oyster grow-out bags.

A few days later I paid a visit to Hog Island Oysters, having been invited to come talk about my clean-up efforts and the goals of Hog Island in terms of reducing the amount of plastic the oyster farms inject into the environment.

John Finger explained that in the past, a yearly cleanup had taken place to pick up oyster gear from around the bay.

Hog Island is committed to running a clean operation, reducing plastic loss and recovering as much as possible that is lost.

After seeing what I was digging out of the wrack on a regular basis, he decided that once a year was not enough. So he plans to work with the other growers to make a concerted effort four times per year. If I can, I’ll go out before the planned cleanup to see what is there to get, as well as to visit after the cleanup to see if the participants are actually recovering their gear.

I am going to reduce the number of “Save our Tomales Bay” reports for a while. A wait and see approach, if you will.

Let us hope that all the Tomales Bay Oyster growers step up and help manage the mess that their operations are creating, hopefully figuring out how to prevent the mess in the first place.

I’ll still be out there picking up stuff and photographing it.

In the meantime, enjoy this green heron I drifted by on christmas day.

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Now this is what I expect to see in a Bay as gorgeous as Tomales!

Coming soon, we’ll pay a visit to Drakes Estero to see what a “sustainable oyster operation” looks like under the surface.

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Next related post may be found here.

Previous related post may be found here.

See the first post in this series “Save our Tomales Bay” here.

Save our Tomales Bay – part 11

Click on the words above “Save our Tomales Bay…” to see this post as it was meant to be seen.

It appears I was premature in doling out kudos to the folks at Tomales Bay Oyster Company (TBOC) for picking up after themselves.

The garbage continues to show up on the stretch of shore just south of their retail operation.

I continue to be flummoxed at how a business dependent on nature for profits can be so cavalier in the care of that same environment from whence the bivalve bucks become.

Good news to report though. The Department of Fish & Wildlife has furnished me with maps showing who has a state water bottom lease for aquaculture in Tomales Bay. Equally interesting is who does not have a lease (or sub-lease) to grow shellfish in the saltwater of Tomales Bay

With these maps I hope to be better able to figure out the source of the garbage in Tomales Bay.

I’ve been justly heaping the shame on Tomales Bay Oyster Company for producing the mess I find in the southern end of Tomales Bay. I say justly because the state of the shore I walk reflects the state of the production area and the mudflats directly in front of the operation in The Bay.

In a word, deplorable, describes how it looks.

Armed with these new maps, I see that there are three other Oyster farmers with leases in the southern bay region, Hog Island Oyster Company, Point Reyes Oyster Company and Marin Oyster Company.

In light of this, I’ll be sure to share the responsibility of the continuous mess I find equitably.

The folks at Hog Island contacted me recently. They care deeply about the bay and want to work with me to see how to have regular, thorough clean-ups of the feral plastic their operations introduce into the global ecosystem. They continue to reach out to fellow oysterers for help in recovering the rubbish that regularly is loosed on the water and land by wind and wave. Let’s hope with increased public scrutiny, all growers participate in protecting the Bay from human activity from now on.

More on that later.

Below are images from efforts on 14 and 15 December.


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Five weeks ago I recovered 24 bags along with the usual plastic bits, bottles and foam.


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Last week in the same area I collected 29 bags.
Does anyone see a trend here? I’m told these bags cost 2 bucks a piece. Must be good money in oysters to be throwing away so much cash.


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One of a few "work-sites" on The Bay where materials and rubbish are regularly left to the winds and waves.

One of a few “work-sites” on The Bay where materials and rubbish are regularly left to the winds and waves.


A favorite libation of the oyster worker. I find them all over Tomales Bay.

A favorite libation of the oyster worker. I find them all over Tomales Bay.


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Suppliers to the oyster trade of West Marin.  Admiralty Seafood, Drakes Bay Oyster Company, Montana Reach dba Cold Creek Oysters, Northwest Shellfish Company, Schreiber Shellfish Company, Tom Farmer Oyster Company, Tomales Bay Oyster Company -- Are these companies aware that their name is attached to oyster farm debris littering Tomales Bay? -- You betcha!

Suppliers to the oyster trade of West Marin. Admiralty Seafood, Drakes Bay Oyster Company, Montana Reach dba Cold Creek Oysters, Northwest Shellfish Company, Schreiber Shellfish Company, Tom Farmer Oyster Company, Tomales Bay Oyster Company

Are these companies aware that their name is attached to oyster farm debris littering Tomales Bay?

You betcha!


More tags from those Washington oysters - Nisqually Tribe Shellfish Farm, Tom Farmer Oyster Company, Taylor Shellfish Farms, Gold Coast Oyster LLC, Northwest Shellfish Company, Schreiber Shellfish Inc.

More tags from those Washington oysters – Nisqually Tribe Shellfish Farm, Tom Farmer Oyster Company, Taylor Shellfish Farms, Gold Coast Oyster LLC, Northwest Shellfish Company, Schreiber Shellfish Inc.


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Boat loaded down with several hours work cleaning up after local oyster farmers.


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Feral plastic unloaded and turned into a monument to oyster profits over a clean environment.


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Now that the hard work of finding, pulling out of the mud and returning to the source has been done for them, I hope they at least had the decency to come out and get their trash. The low tide prevented me from getting in closer to shore.


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Dozens of bags buried in the mud, abandoned for so long they have become substrate for the ecosystem. Polyethylene is not a sustainable substrate.

Dozens of bags buried in the mud, abandoned for so long they have become substrate for the ecosystem.
Polyethylene is not a sustainable substrate.


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oyster bags, plastic ropes - tools of the oyster trade I find all over the beaches of West Marin. The same material found in the guts of dead whales, dead turtles and dead birds.

oyster bags, plastic ropes – tools of the oyster trade I find all over the beaches of West Marin.
The same material found in the guts of dead whales, dead turtles and dead birds.


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This foam provides buoyancy for the work platforms used by oyster farmers. - I find this stuff all over the place. Some pieces too large to fit in my car, so they are strapped on top. - I've been picking this up from the shores of Drakes Estero for years. - Thankfully that operation will soon close and the source of this toxic blight in those waters will go away. - Ironic that I regularly find dust pans on the beach. Brooms and brushes too.

This foam provides buoyancy for the work platforms used by oyster farmers.

I find this stuff all over the place. Some pieces too large to fit in my car, so they are strapped on top.

I’ve been picking this up from the shores of Drakes Estero for years.

Thankfully that operation will soon close and the source of this toxic blight in those waters will go away.

Ironic that I regularly find dust pans on the beach. Brooms and brushes too.


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Grow-out bag covered with California horn snails CORRECTION: Japanese Mud Snails, brought in with non-native oysters long ago. Yet more damage done to California environmnet by shellfish growers. They eat detritus and benthic diatoms. Their preferred diet is benthic diatoms, not the detritus you see here.


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Grow-out bag covered with California horn snails CORRECTION: Japanese Mud Snails, brought in with non-native oysters long ago. Yet more damage done to California environmnet by shellfish growers. They eat detritus and benthic diatoms. Their preferred diet is benthic diatoms, not the detritus you see here.


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No oysters in this long abandoned grow-out bag. Just sand and mud.


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No oysters in this long abandoned grow-out bag. Just sand and mud.


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No oysters in this long abandoned grow-out bag. Just sand and mud.


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No oysters in this long abandoned grow-out bag. Just sand and mud.


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No oysters in this long abandoned grow-out bag. Just sand and mud.


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No oysters in this long abandoned grow-out bag. Just sand and mud.

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Next related post may be found here.

Previous related post may be found here.

See the first post in this series “Save our Tomales Bay” here.

Waves & foam & kelp & human debris

Click the words above “Waves & kelp & foam…” to see this post how it was meant to be seen.

For those of you not able to visit the coast, here is 3.5 minutes of waves and foam on a remote beach at Point Reyes National Seashore

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Yet another black plastic oyster tube spacer from the Drake Bay Oyster Company. I found 6 this day. I wonder how may were found by pelagic birds and picked up as food?

Yet another black plastic oyster tube spacer from the Drake Bay Oyster Company. I found 6 this day. I wonder how may were found by pelagic birds and picked up as food?

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Drinking water for people with more dollars than sense. Nothing smart about this water.

Drinking water for people with more dollars than sense. Nothing smart about this water.

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The court has spoken

Click the words above “The court has spoken” to see this post how it was meant to be seen.

The following are excerpts from the Ninth Circuit opinion published this morning which can be found here.

Knowing full well

Affirmed

Several weeks ago, I overheard someone responsible for the oyster farm entry in the Western Weekend Parade comment “I wanted to do something good for them, they’ve been through so much.”

The phrase “largely responsible for their own harm” comes to mind.

A few weeks ago, someone closely involved with this ordeal said to me, “Regardless of the outcome, I hope Kevin Lunny invests just as much time healing this community as he did dividing it.

I agree with this comment.

Doing what’s right for the ecology

In yesterday’s Marin Independent-Journal is a view of the situation unfolding in Drake’s Estero not before seen in print (by me anyhow).

Joe Mueller, professor of Marine Biology, College of Marin writes:

“I COMMEND the level of public engagement in the debate over whether to protect Drakes Estero marine wilderness or continue commercial oyster operations in our local national park. While the decision did not rest on scientific matters, fundamental ecological principles have always supported protecting this estuary.

As a local professor of marine ecology and environmental science for the past 25 years, I would be remiss if I didn’t voice strong disagreement with those that feel growing and extracting 20 million non-native oysters from the Drakes Bay Ecosystem is in any way commendable as an environmentally healthy practice.”

Read his entire piece here.

Oyster racks imbued with creosote covered with eel grass

Oyster racks imbued with creosote covered with eel grass

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Read about creosote here.

Cormorants resting on oyster racks imbued with creosote

Cormorants resting on oyster racks imbued with creosote

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Save our Tomales Bay – Part 4

Click on the words “Save our Tomales Bay” above to see this post as it was meant to be seen.

As always, to see a larger version of an image below, click on the image.

Last week while kayaking on Tomales Bay I came upon this grow out bag floating in the hot, bath-like water and mud south of Inverness Park – nearly to White House Pool. It had gotten loose from the area the commercial operation had placed it to grow and drifted a few miles south.

These bags get loose by the hundreds each year and drift all over the ocean, breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces of deadly plastic, one day to be eaten by a hapless bird out looking for food.

One idea that could address employment as well as ocean debris problems is for the oyster farms to hire more people to keep a closer eye on things.

Depending on the outcome of the seemingly never-ending dance of the liars, err lawyers, we may soon have many very experienced oyster-workers looking for work. And, as can be seen by anyone that takes the time to visit the waters of Tomales Bay, we have a never ending supply of feral plastic that needs tending to.


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No matter which side of the fence you stand on the oyster issue, there is no denying that the view is sublime, and one which we all need to be doing our utmost to protect from degradation.


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I shall not tire in my efforts to ameliorate the impact of humans on this most sacred of places, earth.

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Next related post may be found here.

Previous related post may be found here.

See the first post in this series “Save our Tomales Bay” here.

Save our Tomales Bay – part 3

Click on the words “Save our Tomales Bay” above to see this post as it was intended to be seen.

For the many thousands of you that wait on the edge of your recliner for my next batch of images showcasing the worrisome ways in which humans lay waste to the watersheds of the world, I apologize.

Today while visiting the shore of Tomales Bay, as I have the past few weeks in search of debris to remove from the shore and water, I found that much of it had been removed.

Woo hoo!

Last week I opined that with the volume of oyster grow-out bags still littering the shore (hundreds), either the people that put them there would need to pack them out, or I’d need lots of help.

I’m, not sure who did it, but thank you!

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The above bundle of bags is gone, Hopefully retrieved and no longer poised to explode and spread plastic all over the bay. Thank you.

Today the tide was higher and I was on land, not in my boat. So I had no easy way to see if the piles of iron and dozens of submerged, gravel filled bags buried in the bottom have been removed. I hope they were. I’ll come back again to see.

I did find fewer than ten bags on shore and only a few in the water.

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Location -     38.119608° N   -122.864715° W   Datum WGS84

Location – 38.119608° N -122.864715° W Datum WGS84

This work site still had the fifteen or so bags laying about I saw weeks ago. I left them then, and I left them today. The wind can easily take these bags into the water where the tides can carry them out to sea. Surely this work area can be kept cleaner!

Location -  38.128490° N   -122.864172° W   Datum WGS84

Location – 38.128490° N -122.864172° W Datum WGS84

Location -  38.128490° N   -122.864172° W   Datum WGS84

Location – 38.128490° N -122.864172° W Datum WGS84

The sad new discovery was the anchors shown in the banner image and again above. Ten to twelve large plastic trash cans or barrels filled with concrete. Who left these here? This is 2013, not 1950. We have known for a long time that we can’t simply extract resources and leave our mess behind for others to deal with. Our planet is buckling under the damage caused by that out-dated thinking.

Who amongst you has an idea on how to get this blight out of Tomales Bay?

Location -   38.125753° N   -122.862869° W   Datum WGS84

Location – 38.125753° N -122.862869° W Datum WGS84

I could have had a V8!

Location -    38.125670° N   -122.862855° W   Datum WGS84

Location – 38.125670° N -122.862855° W Datum WGS84

Still more rusty oyster infrastructure from days gone by, littering the bay.

Location -    38.125670° N   -122.862855° W   Datum WGS84

Location – 38.125670° N -122.862855° W Datum WGS84

Next I plan to visit the area around Walker Creek and Preston Point to see what sort of monuments to the human madness are mired in the mud up that way.

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Here are a few images showing what a healthy shoreline looks like, plastic free!

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Previous related post may be found here.

See the first post in this series “Save our Tomales Bay” here.