The Wild Oyster Project – Restoring Native Oysters to San Francisco Bay

  • Olympia Oysters

By Gayle Hudson

At our September meeting, Linda Hunter from the Wild Oyster Project explained the mission of the project is to restore native oysters in the San Francisco Bay and why bringing back native oysters can clean the Bay waters and help prevent damage from rising sea levels.

Wild oyster shell on handLinda passed around samples of the native oyster shell, a variety called Olympia, which is a very small oyster; it takes five years to get to just a few inches in length.  She explained the rich history of this oyster, which has been found in Native American midden sites, and said Mark Twain was a big fan of oysters in his day.  At that time, oysters were more of a working man’s food than a gourmet delicacy.  Oysters went into decline with hydraulic mining during the Gold Rush era and other factors and eventually larger oysters were farmed.

Oysters are a keystone species.  Restoring them to the Bay will provide a habitat for other creatures, filter bay water (a slide showed a dirty tank of water cleaned in just 20 minutes), and offer a food source for other marine inhabitants (the reef oyster is low on the food chain).  A very important benefit of established oyster reefs is they attenuate the effect of rising seas since they can stop damaging wave action.

Oyster Shell RecyclingThe Wild Oyster Project involves four programs:  wild oyster restoration, oyster shell recycling, urban planning and policy, and sustainable oyster farming. 100 reef balls have been installed at Pt. Pinole, which are made of concrete and crushed oyster shells and weigh 300 lbs. each.  They are now covered with oysters and can be viewed from the fishing pier at low tide; the East Bay Regional Park District has made a sign identifying the site.

The Wild Oyster Project collects oyster shells for the reefs with a program called Safe Your Shucks.  Restaurants participate in the program and local businesses like Ploughshares Nursery in Alameda offer a collection site for residents to drop off shell.

New York City has planted 23 million oysters in the waters surrounding the city. Once established, oysters reefs help to change a polluted site to a healthy environment with cleaner water, and recreation for kayakers, fishing and other activities.  And one day, maybe divers.

The Wild Oyster ProjectWe thank Linda Hunter for bringing information about her timely and valuable project to Aqua Tutus.  You can read more about the Wild Oyster Project at wildoysters.org and find them on Facebook.