Take a deep breath, smell the ocean, and watch hundreds of brant wheel and squawk overhead. Dip your paddle into calm salty water as bat rays and leopard sharks glide below you. Only 90 minutes after leaving San Francisco, in the heart of Point Reyes National Seashore, you can feel the stress ebbing away.
As part of the Phillip Burton Wilderness—the only West Coast marine wilderness south of Alaska—Drakes Estero is one of the most protected estuaries in California. Thousands of species of birds, mammals, fish, and other wildlife depend on estuaries, where fresh water mixes with salty ocean water.
"It is not difficult for either the casual park visitor or the seasoned scientist to recognize the ecological significance of Drakes Estero—enhanced by robust eelgrass meadows and sandbars that provide nursery areas for fish, harbor seals and other marine life, and are visited by tens of thousands of shorebirds and waterfowl."
-Sylvia Earle, Explorer in Residence at National Geographic
Why did we restore Drakes Estero?
Drakes Estero is an estuary complex made up of five branching bays. The 2500 acre complex includes 2300 acres of underwater wilderness—which is more than twice the size of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. With five miles of oyster racks and other debris removed, we can help stop the spread of invasive species and allow for the growth of critical native species.
The invasive sea squirt Didemnum vexillum, or Dvex, typically grows on hard surfaces. Removing oyster racks and other debris eliminates habitat for Dvex. Eelgrass beds are critical to fish reproduction and the health of the estuary. Eelgrass can now expand into areas once covered by debris.
June–July 2015: Continued on-shore restoration
Contractors removed remaining structures, water, power, and septic systems associated with the commercial oyster operation.
January–June 2015: Employee relocation
The National Park Service helped oyster company workers find new jobs and residences through a relocation contractor, Legal Aid of Marin, and West Marin Community Services. Former employees lived at Drakes Estero at no cost for up to six months after commercial oyster operations ceased.
February 2015: Oyster rack removal test
We pulled out a few oyster racks to find the best methods and equipment for protecting sensitive resources. This test helped us design the underwater restoration, with the least impact to the estero ecosystem.
January 2015: On-shore restoration begins
Contractors removed nine commercial buildings, utilities, debris, and over 6,000 square feet of asphalt and concrete.
October 2014: Settlement agreement reached
Under a settlement agreement (1,307 KB PDF) between the National Park Service and Drakes Bay Oyster Company, oyster farming at Drakes Estero closed on December 31, 2014. This opened a new future for the estuary and new opportunities for the public to enjoy this extraordinary place.
(415) 464-5100 This number will initially be answered by an automated attendant, from which one can opt to access a name directory, listen to recorded information about the park (i.e., directions to the park; visitor center hours of operation; weather forecast; fire danger information; shuttle bus system status; wildlife updates; ranger-led programs; seasonal events; etc.), or speak with a ranger. Please note that if you are calling between 4:30 pm and 10 am, park staff may not be available to answer your call.