The MMC report, page 57, item (3) states
“The tolerance of seals for disturbance and the biological significance of such disturbance should be evaluated. At present, indicators of disturbance are defined as ranging from head alerts to flushing into the water. The existing information is not sufficient to describe the biological consequences or reactions at either end of this continuum.”
In 2005 and 2006, Dr. Sarah Allen, herself an NPS scientist and co-author of all of the Becker reports investigated by the National Academy of Sciences and the Department of the Interior as well as the more recent Becker Reports used by the MMC, published two extensive and key reports on just that subject matter. Furthermore, Dr. Allen testified in a court case in San Diego about that topic.
Report #1, 7 year 4 month study
“Monitoring the Potential Impact of the Seismic Retrofit Construction Activities at the Richmond San Rafael Bridge on Harbor Seals (Phoca vitulina): May 1, 1998 – September 15, 2005”http://bit.ly/rpKpRu Dr. Sarah Allen found the following:
1. “Construction-related disturbances [as close as 20 yards from haul-out sites]… were attributed to two main factors; watercraft … and construction activities such as jack-hammering, rivet work, hammering and the movement of cranes on barges near the haul-out site … the total number of seals hauling out … did not decrease.”
2. Harbor seals habituated to much more serious disturbances at much closer distances.
2.1. The tiny outboard motor boats operated by Drakes Bay Oyster Company come no closer than 600 yards to the one seal haul-out in the estero; that is 6 football fields away.
2.2. According to the dEIS section on sound-scapes, at 500 FEET the decibel level is 51 – equivalent to a quiet urban area at daytime.
2.3. At 600 yards (1800 feet), the minimum distance of the motor boats from the one seal haul-out site, and the decibel level is reduced substantially.
2.4. If reduced only by 10 decibels to 40 decibels that would equate to a bird call http://bit.ly/sC86dY
“Harbor Seal Monitoring at Point Reyes National Seashore and Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Annual Report 2005”, http://bit.ly/sLTUHU Dr. Allen found
1. “Causes for [harbor seal] disturbance at Drakes Estero … birds most frequent cause, followed by non-motor boats [kayakers], humans [hikers], aircraft.” in conclusion she finds “
2. The number of disturbances … remains similar to previous years and
3. No trends are detected….
4. Hikers and boaters remain the two most frequent sources of disturbance ….”
2005 San Diego Court Decision:
“Dr. Allen testified that seals habituate (or anthropomorphizing) to disturbance sources that are determined not to be a threat.” http://bit.ly/rpKpRu
Turning Drakes Estero into “Wilderness” will not change the most frequent causes of disturbances. The birds, kayakers, hikers, and aircraft will continue to frequent the area – 2,500,000 people on avaerage visit the area every year according to the NPS website.
It will however, remove the filtering system that makes Drakes Estero one of the most pristine estuarine systems in the country. Eel grass has double in ten years. It is not only a home for one of the largest populations of harbor seals on the coast but also, provides a safe harbor in years of trouble. Much has been made of “disturbances” however the greatest on record was in 2003 and 2004 when an elephant seal killed 40 harbor seals.
Removal of the oyster farm would however cause a major reduction in filtering of the waters putting the estuary in jeopardy of becoming polluted by the accumulation of seal feces as noted by three of the original panel of experts in the first MMC report. The dEIS does note this as a MAJOR NEGATIVE IMPACT however, does not study the subject.)
After the Gavin Frost of Department of the Interior (Frost Report) found “violations of scientific and scholarly conduct”, and the National Academy of Sciences found “the National Park Service selectively presented, over interpreted, or misrepresented available sicentific information on Drakes Bay Oyster Company”, the Sierra Club and National Parks Conservation Association wrote to the Marine Mammal Commission asking it to reject the NAS report and do its own investigation. Jon Jarvis promoted Dr. Sarah Allen to the Pacific West Regional Office with the title “Ocean Steward”.)
Neither of Dr. Allen’s 2006 – 7 year study, nor her 2005 Annual Report, nor her court testimony is mentioned in the MMC report or listed in the bibliography on page 61.
Decide for yourself what is going on and make your comments known about the draft EIS on the the National Park Service Website by following this link: