08-02-12 Letter to the Editor of West Marin Citizen by Jeff Creque

West Marin Citizen 08-02-2012

Letter to the Editor


Estero ecology


In his brief piece in favor of elimination

of the DrakesBay Oyster Farm, Russell

Ridge (Citizen, July 26, 2012) nicely

articulates the fundamental misunderstanding

of ecosystem dynamics underlying

his argument.

With all due respect for the linear,

closed system dynamics assumed and espoused

by Mr. Ridge (after all, most of us

who received our early ecological training

in the 60’s and 70’s were taught within

that framework), that view of ecosystem

dynamics is both outdated and, quite

frankly, wrong. Ridge evokes the Second

Law of Thermodynamics to support his

argument that plankton is a limited and

limiting resource within the Estero. But

modern ecosystem theory recognizes that

the Second Law simply does not apply to

open, dynamic systems, of which Drakes

Estero is an archetypical example. Indeed,

open to inputs from both sky and sea, the

Estero, rather than being limited by a

fixed quantity of energy and nutrients, has

essentially an unlimited potential for selforganized

complexity, including enormous

biomass production and

biodiversity potential.

That same misunderstanding of ecosystem

processes underlies the 19th Century

“human-free wilderness” conviction of

our moribund NPS administration and

other opponents of the oyster farm. Under

this archaic paradigm, any human involvement

with the imagined “wild” is

necessarily negative. It is impossible,

within that outmoded framework, to conceive

of ecosystem complexity and productivity

increasing under enlightened

management. Yet efforts now underway

to restore oysters to San FranciscoBay

offer a pertinent example of how shellfish,

as ecosystem engineers improve water

quality, add to structural diversity in the

estuarine system, and play a critical role

in enhancing ecosystem biodiversity, resilience,

and productivity.

A reasonably accessible introduction to

modern ecosystem theory is Fritjof

Capra’s, Web of Life. If Ridge et al. would

make the effort to understand the non-linearity

and self organizing complexity of

living, open systems like Drakes Estero –

and, indeed, the Earth herself – perhaps

we could begin to move beyond the dangerously

constrained limits of the current

debate toward the realization of a truly

dynamic, productive and sustainable future

for our community and our beleaguered


Jeff Creque


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