Removing Marine Debris From a Sacred Wiyot Village

An old building sits on Tuluwat, an ancient Wiyot village.
An old building sits on Tuluwat, an ancient Wiyot village.
NOAA is supporting the indigenous Wiyot Tribe in its effort to remove marine debris from an ancient cultural site.

Project Dates: June 2013 - September 2015

What is the project?

In 1860, non-native settlers in Humboldt Bay, California attacked and massacred nearly 200 indigenous Wiyot people in Tuluwat, an ancient and culturally significant village on Indian Island. In the years following the massacre, settlers took ownership of the island and used it for agriculture and industry, including ship maintenance, leaving behind remnant marine debris. This includes a decrepit fishing shack, scrap metal once used in the ballast of ships, building debris, garbage, and a number of dock pilings.

The Wiyot Tribe bought back 1.5 acres of the historic village site in 2001, and in 2006, the city of Eureka returned 60 additional acres. In 2014, the Wiyot people, with the support from the NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP), will remove the remaining marine debris from the site.

Who is involved?

The project is part of the Indian Island Cultural and Environmental Restoration Project (IICERP), an on-going effort to restore the cultural and environmental integrity of the island. The Wiyot people, with support from the NOAA Restoration Center and MDP’s Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant program, are leading debris removal and restoration efforts, with input from state, federal, and local partners. Humboldt Baykeeper and other local non-profits are also helping coordinate cleanups and outreach events around the island.

What does it accomplish?

This debris removal project concludes a nearly 10-year effort to remediate the eelgrass beds, mud and sand flats, salt marshes and ponds, sand beaches and islands, woody riparian vegetation, and coastal marsh surrounding Indian Island. Once the debris is gone, the Wiyot can begin restoration efforts on the degraded tidal salt marsh and eel grass, as well reconnect to Tuluwat as a cultural and ceremonial center for the tribe.

In the planned community outreach and cleanup events, volunteers will remove litter and fishing line, as well as raise awareness about marine debris that will help prevent future debris problems.

What is something unique about the project?

The debris removal will occur around a 1,000-year-old, six-acre shell mound, full of remnants of meals, tools, and ceremonies, as well as many burial sites. The shell mound will be the site of a revitalized Wiyot World Renewal Ceremony in 2014 – the first the tribe has held since the massacre more than 150 years ago.