On the first Friday of September, and five days after Lake Merritt’s mass marine life die-off phenomenon, Damon Tighe’s plea to the various agencies involved in the lake’s management, operations, and maintenance is paying off.

I met up with Damon at 9 a.m. at Lake Merritt—with my monochrome black-and-white camera in hand—to get a sense of the state of the lake as we go into the Labor Day Weekend. Earlier in the week, Oaklandside journalist Darwin Bondgraham met up with Damon Tighe, a biotech educator and naturalist. Damon has been documenting marine life in and around Lake Merritt for about two decades. 

Most of the dead fish have decomposed, been eaten up, or cleaned up with the harvester. As we made our way to the Embarcadero side of the lake, we stopped by the small beach in front of the mid-century monster behind Fairyland. Damon observed that many of the mollusks found on the shore were dead. 

Next, we stopped by the Lake Merritt Boating Center, where Damon pulled out a settling plate managed by Katie Noonan, Rotary Nature Center Friends co-chair. We found that all the mussels and other species typically vibrant with life were now dead due to the low oxygen levels in the lake.

As we reported earlier this week, one thing that might help prevent more fish from dying is getting more oxygen in the water:

With the Lake Merritt Institute’s help, the city operates several large fountains, one at the tip of the lake’s western arm and one near the Pergola. Pulling water from several feet below the surface and spraying it into the air replenishes oxygen in the lake.

Both fountains have been out of service for a while now. On Tuesday, we saw workers transporting one of the fountains to the Lake Merritt Boathouse where a mechanic said he was replacing the motor so that it could be put back in place and turned on, possibly as early as tonight.

Tighe said the fountains could save fish in the immediate area. It would also help if the wind increases. Opening the tidal gates that allow Bay water to flow into and out of the lake could also help oxygenate the water.

Earlier today, Damon tweeted messages asking Oaklanders to call the Lake Merritt Institute and the city’s parks department and urge them get fountains flowing.

James Robinson, executive director of the Lake Merritt Institute, noted earlier in the day that the fountains need at least three and a half feet of clearance to run. Since the lake’s water is becoming more shallow, only one fountain, the one on the Glen Echo side, is currently able to run.

Minutes after we arrived at the Embarcadero side of the lake, where the second fountain is located, we noticed a maintenance boat making its way toward us.

Alfredo Sanches with the Lake Merritt Institute came over to transfer the fountain to the Glen Echo side of the lake, on Harrison and Grand Avenue across from The Cathedral of Christ the Light. Later, that fountain started flowing.

Correction: We previously said that both fountains at the lake are now operating. Only one is.

Harvey Castro

Harvey Castro is an Oakland-based photographer and art administrator working on projects rooted in social justice. Sociopolitical issues related to inequality and diversity are central to his work leading to connections with individuals, which result in candid portraits and intimate scenarios taken in both public and private spaces. Genuine involvement and engagement are essential; often, his work has a strong feeling of reportage with many images showing the subject mid-exchange, active in communicating their situation. Reflected are bonds of support and camaraderie within each specific community – bonds that make resistance possible against adversity and exclusion.