Alta Live: Meet the West Coast’s Native Oyster

The Olympia oyster has been used by locals, both Indigenous people and settlers, for centuries.

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Why is it that this oyster is named for one relatively insignificant place in Washington State? Why not call it the California oyster?” Matthew Morse Booker asked during an Alta Live conversation about California’s only native oyster, the Olympia. The small mollusks have the ability to purify water, create habitats, modify their environment, and provide a sturdy foundation for train tracks. But they’ve faced population challenges, many of which Lydia Lee recently detailed in Alta Journal. “They have survived all of the insults of the industrial era and the postindustrial era—pollution, changing watersheds, changing taste—and they’re still here,” Booker said.

These modest mollusks have been shaping the history of the San Francisco Bay for a long time. Shell mounds found in the bay indicate complex human civilizations dating back centuries, Booker explained. “These are the greatest historical record of Native American presence in California history…. These are extensive and dramatic and remarkable evidence of intense human habitation of the same place over vast numbers of years. Show me other places like that on Earth!” he said. “This is about people remaining and sustaining themselves.”

Check out these links to some of the topics Booker and host Beth Spotswood brought up this week.

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