Drakes Estero Restoration

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Learn how removing close to 500 tons of aquaculture debris is an essential step to restoring the ecological function and character of this extraordinary marine wilderness.


Frequently Asked Questions about the Drakes Estero Restoration

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
Aerial photo of Drakes Estero taken on February 15, 2012. © Bobbi Simpson.

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.

Loose live non-native oysters from Bed 17 in Drakes Estero. January 1, 2015.

Drakes Estero: Restoration Photographs

View photographs of offshore infrastructure, shellfish, and marine debris removed from Drakes Estero.

Didemnum vexillum depending from old oyster racks in Drakes Estero. October 22, 2014.

Drakes Estero: Restoration Videos

View videos of offshore infrastructure, shellfish, and marine debris from Drakes Estero.

Harbor seals on a sandbar near the mouth of Drakes Estero. April 13, 2011.
Harbor seals on a sandbar at Drakes Estero

We restored Drakes Estero by:

  • Removing five miles of pressure-treated wooden oyster racks weighing nearly 500 tons
  • Cleaning up several acres of underwater plastic, metal, and shell debris weighing nearly 1300 tons
  • Removing plastic, metal, and cement debris from the sandbars, where one-fifth of California's harbor seal pups are born and raised
  • Conducting long-term scientific monitoring of non-native species, eelgrass, harbor seals, and water quality


The National Park Service partnered with the National Park Foundation and Point Reyes National Seashore Association to continue the restoration of Drakes Estero.

Abandoned oyster rack in Drakes Estero. January 18, 2015.
Oyster racks in Drakes Estero
  • July 2017: End of harbor seal pupping closure
    The waters of Drakes Estero open to recreational use following the end of the harbor seal pupping season.
  • May 2017: Onshore work complete
    All aquaculture debris removed from onshore staging area. Drakes Estero access road opens to the public.
  • April 2017: Offshore work complete
    All offshore removal of aquaculture debris completed.
  • March 2017: Harbor seal pupping closure
    Bottom debris work completed within a 1/4 mile of harbor seal pupping areas. Work outside of a 1/4 mile continues under former oyster racks.
  • December 2016: Oyster racks removed
    All exposed wooden oyster racks removed from the estuary. Removal of bottom debris, mats, and anchors continues.
    Map of Drakes Estero with Oyster Racks and Culture Beds (204 KB PDF) [Map initially published in the Drakes Bay Oyster Company Special Use Permit Draft Environmental Impact Statement on September 23, 2011]
  • August 2016: Offshore Clean-up and Restoration Begins
    The restoration of Drakes Estero—a 2,500-acre wilderness estuary within the park—began in early August. We are also working closely with the California Department of Fish & Wildlife, University of California, Davis, San Francisco State University, and others to implement a long term monitoring plan that will measure the success of the restoration.
  • 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.
Barges removing oysters left in Drakes Estero.
Barges with oyster bags removed from Drakes Estero

See more:

Beach Clean Up Station at Drakes Estero.
Beach Clean Up Station at Drakes Estero.

Help Us Keep Drakes Estero Clean

In collaboration with All One Ocean, we installed Beach Clean-Up Stations throughout the seashore. You can pick up a reusable bag at Drakes Estero and gather trash while you explore.

When you return, empty the trash in the garbage containers at the parking lot. Then return the reusable bag to the Beach Clean-Up Station. Thanks for helping to keep Drakes Estero clean!


Background Information

Please see our Drakes Estero Restoration Background Information page for background information relevant to this NEPA process.

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Last updated: May 27, 2022

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

1 Bear Valley Road
Point Reyes Station , CA 94956


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; fire danger information; 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.

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