Eelgrass Has its Enforcers

In a February storm, this anchor-out dragged its anchor along the boat channel | photo by Court Mast | post by Larry Clinton

Last week Michael Konrad of South 40 Pier provided a primer on eel grass, a key component of the ecology of Richardson’s Bay. This week he examines threats to eel grass and what is being done about them.

The damage that anchored boats can inflict on eelgrass is often mentioned by those who advocate elimination of boats permanently anchored in Richardson’s Bay, a.k.a. anchor outs. There used to be considerably more than a hundred permanently anchored boats in the bay, but now there about 10-20. The ultimate enforcer of this decrease has been the powerful San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, known as the BCDC.

It may seem unlikely at first that a few boats could do much damage to such a large bay. However, as the tide goes in and out the rope or chain between boat and bottom sweeps out a considerable area and makes it difficult for eelgrass to thrive. Go to the BCDC home page, select the “Search” icon at the right end of the menu bar, enter “eelgrass restoration”, and you will get many essays on the subject, some with detailed maps of the eelgrass distribution in Richardson’s’s Bay.

As with most subjects, the issue of anchor outs is complicated. Most anchor outs start with a boat owner whose boat is in too poor a condition to use or sell and doesn’t have the money to have it repaired. However, it also costs money to junk a boat, e.g., crush it up and transport the fragments to a dump site. A solution is just to leave it anchored out and let someone else take care of the problem. There are many people in Marin who don’t have the money to rent a home or even a room. So, they row out to an abandoned boat and live there. They often don’t know much about boats and how to anchor them, and even if they did, they don’t have the money to buy a good anchor and chain. When a winter storm comes the boat may break loose and be blown against another boat or a dock and cause real damage. Anchor outs have trash and may dump it into trash bins belonging to marinas, who become angry because they have to pay the trash collectors to empty those bins. A few steal items from other boats, and on and on.

Members of the floating home community who know some history or lived here in the 70s may feel some empathy for anchor outs, since many of the residents of Waldo Point Harbor were anchor outs or lived in boats moored to rather informal docks. There was a very justifiable fear of fire in that community, but there was also a general dislike of “hippies” and their lifestyle in Sausalito City Hall and by people living on the hill. Whatever, anchor outs are almost gone now.

The BCDC and Richardson Bay Regional Agency are our enforcers

The land under water, out from the high tide line, belongs to the State of California. Some sections of the shore zone from high tide to the beginning of navigation can be leased from the State by private or municipal entities. That explains why Sausalito City maps show streets extending out under Bay water. Waldo Point Harbor, Kappas Marina, Yellow Ferry Harbor and Commodore Marina are among those leasing entities. So, we and the eelgrass, directly or indirectly, are under the control of the same agencies. However, unlike eelgrass, we can vote.