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.


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.

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.


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.

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


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.

Drakes Estero

Click on the words “Drakes Estero” above to see this post as it was meant to be seen.

Today I had hoped to record some video of life on the estero.

The wind and the chop said otherwise.

I did get a heck of a workout. Picked up a little trash too.

Saw the largest bat ray I have ever seen, nearly four feet from tip to tip.

Only one shark.

Many loons.

What follows are some scenes from the day.

Oyster racks with eel grass

Oyster racks with eel grass

Hmmmm, this is not food, only oyster spacers and discarded plastic water bottles.

Hmmmm, this is not food, only oyster spacers and discarded plastic water bottles.

Save our Tomales Bay

Over the past few weeks signs have popped up all over West Marin stating
“Save our Drakes Bay Oyster Farm”.

I am reminded of a young child that wants a puppy. Really wants a puppy.

Begs and pleads to her/his parents to get a puppy.

Days and weeks of begging for a puppy.

The parents engage in the sort of dialog you might expect.

“Puppies are a lot of responsibility honey.”

“I’ll take care of him” is the reply.

“You have to feed the puppy and make sure it has clean water.”

“I will, I’ll feed it every day.”

“And you have to pick up the mess from the puppy too.”

“I will, I will pick up after him.”

And so a puppy is purchased and brought home.

At first, all is well and the child does indeed do as promised. After a few weeks, soccer practice gets in the way and the dog poop is not picked up regularly. Then homework is too burdensome and the morning walk is not doable anymore. Soon, even feeding the dog is forgotten by the child.

Everywhere around us we see signs asking for an oyster farm. An oyster farm that has been shitting in the estero for as long as it has been there. See a previous post for a image showing a tiny subset of what an oyster farm does to a pristine seascape.

You’d think that with all the scrutiny on the Drakes Bay Oyster Company and the environment, the other oyster farmers in Tomales Bay would be super-vigilant, keeping a close eye on their operations, making sure they clean up after their gear is ripped out and strewn about by wind and wave.

Well, think again. I boated across Tomales Bay yesterday from my place and spent a few hours walking the shore, digging oyster grow-out bags, blue foam, rope, floats, trays etc out of the wrack.

Collected from SE shore of Tomales Bay on 8 June, 2013 in a few hours by one person. Click image for a larger version

Collected from SE shore of Tomales Bay on 8 June, 2013 in a few hours by one person.
Click image for a larger version

Drakes Estero is situated in a National Seashore and has been defiled by human commerce for 70 years or more.

Tomales Bay is designated a state park if I am not mistaken. And, as you can see is clearly not very well respected by local commerce.

Both of these places are situated on earth, the only earth we have. And unless your head is in the sand, or some other place, you can see that we have been trashing it at an ever faster pace since we learned how to use our opposable thumbs.

We can feed ourselves without trashing the planet. We all have to share the burden a little bit, but we can do it.

West Marin prides itself on local, sustainable…….in light of local practices, add blah, blah, blah to the mantra.

I’m sorry, no puppy for you. And no oyster farm in Drakes Estero.

Kehoe Beach – 27 January, 2012, 3:58 pm looking south, status quo.
Click image for a larger version

Next installment may be found here.

Osprey over Drakes Estero, new cetacean species discovered

Click on the title of this post to read it and see a related header image.

This osprey snatched what appears to be a smelt out of Drakes Estero in front of me today. The fish was not at all keen on the events as they unfolded. Osprey circled overhead, attempting to re-arrange the fish into an aerodynamic package for transport back to the nest.

Osprey landed on a post nearby and struggled for a few minutes in a strong and steady breeze, reaching back with beak, trying to move this fish. With talons so long, sharp and curved, it is difficult if not impossible for the bird to let go of prey.

After a few minutes of pecking, floating up, landing back on post, more struggling, fish was nearly out of energy. Properly packaged, osprey lifted off to deliver this meal to a hungry brood or mate.

Later, I happened upon this never before seen species of cetacean that had beached itself upon South Beach.

I gave it the name Fauxkinghumansea dropmoreplastica. Commonly known as, Blue-bodied toxic reminder

Fauxkinghumansea dropmoreplastica (Blue-bodied toxic reminder)

Fauxkinghumansea dropmoreplastica
(Blue-bodied toxic reminder)


Oh, after contacting Marin County Parks people to let them know I found one of their swim area buoys, they came out and picked it up. That thing costs over $500. The decals alone are over $100. They used to gather them up each year at the end of swim season, then set them out again after winter. They stopped doing that, though I am not sure why.

Sustainable oyster farming, West Marin style.

Click on the title of this post to read it and see a related header image.

Sustainable oyster farming, West Marin style. Click image to see larger version.

Sustainable oyster farming, West Marin style.
Click image to see larger version.

Nearly 6000 HDPE (high-density polyethylene) tubes used in the production of oysters in Drakes Estero. One person picked up every one of these by hand over a period of 3.5 years. All were found as far south as Slide Ranch, just south of Stinson Beach, and as far north as the tip of Tomales Point, as well as all points in-between.

Those black (and one green) grow-out bags are a fraction of the bags I recovered. The green one was found in Tomales Bay and is likely from one of the growers that raise oysters in that body of water.

Read about HDPE here.

NOTE: It has been pointed out to me a number of times that these tubes are made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE), not poly-vinyl chloride (PVC). I am finally getting around to correcting that error. [2014.03.30]

See the next post in this series here