By: Stephen Kullman, Guest Blogger and Natural Resources Director for the Wiyot Tribe
In June, the Wiyot Tribe completed a major marine debris removal effort on Indian Island in Humboldt Bay in Northern California. The removal of legacy industrial marine debris from the Tribe’s sacred lands at Tuluwat Village was part of a major project that also included public outreach and education and the removal of abandoned concrete floating-dock sections scattered throughout Humboldt Bay.
The cultural significance and tragic history of the restored area makes this project’s success particularly meaningful. Tuluwat is considered the center of the Wiyot Universe and is the site of the Tribe’s World Renewal Ceremony, which occurred annually until it was violently interrupted in February 1860. During the approximately week-long ceremony, a group of vigilante settlers rowed over to the island from Eureka under the cover of night and massacred up to 200 Wiyot and other people, mostly women, children, and elders. Following this horrific crime, the sacred Tuluwat midden, or shell-mound, was leased to the Duff Drydock Company and used as a boat repair facility for more than 100 years, contaminating the land and surrounding waters with chemicals, metals, and industrial waste. In 2000, The Wiyot Tribe purchased 1.5 acres of the Tuluwat Midden and began a multi-million dollar remediation project that culminated with the Tribe’s first World Renewal Ceremony in March 2014. Despite the on-land clean-up effort, tons of debris remained in the mudflats and waters surrounding the site, including steel wayrunner rails, creosote-treated pilings and lumber, cables, and a variety of unidentified metal pieces.
With the assistance of NOAA’s Community-Based Marine Removal Program, the Wiyot Tribe completed the removal and disposal of more than ten tons of assorted debris. In addition, they removed 30 concrete and Styrofoam floats from Humboldt Bay and 2 others from Samoa Beach before the floats weathered, broke apart, or entered the Pacific Ocean. The Tribe and its partners broadened this effort’s reach through a number of public outreach and education events, including two volunteer cleanup days, a Humboldt Bay Boat Tour, and a Marine Debris themed “Ocean Night” at the Arcata Community Theater.
To learn more about this project, visit the NOAA Marine Debris Program website.