March 12, 2021 — The Native Oyster Living Shoreline Project, a partnership of the Port of San Diego and California Coastal Conservancy, has been awarded a $960,533 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The objectives of the living shoreline, to be installed adjacent to the Chula Vista Wildlife Reserve in San Diego Bay, are to demonstrate the ability of a native oyster reef to increase biodiversity and resiliency to future sea level rise impacts. The grant is one of eight Coastal Wetlands Conservation Projects selected as part of the Service’s National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grants Program for 2021.

“We are honored to be among other great projects that received grant funding for wetlands restorations and enhancements throughout California,” said Chairman Michael Zucchet, Port of San Diego Board of Port Commissioners.  “We continue to move forward at a steady pace to be able to start the project and place the first nature-based solution of its kind in San Diego Bay. Living shoreline solutions like this have been gaining momentum throughout the state in recent years and we are eager to add one within our jurisdiction.”

The total estimated project cost is $1,384,625. The $424,092 not covered by the grant will be funded by the Conservancy.

“The US Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grants fund many of the state’s most significant wetland restoration projects,” said Sam Schuchat, Executive Officer of the California State Coastal Conservancy.  “The San Diego Bay Oyster Living Shoreline Project will increase the resilience and biodiversity of one of California’s most iconic and beloved waterfronts, and these federal dollars are being matched by state funding thanks to the people of California, who consistently support the protection and restoration of our natural resources.”

As a step to move the project forward, the Board of Port Commissioners adopted a Port Master Plan Amendment (PMPA), which allows the Port to add the project and project description to the current Port Master Plan, and authorized conditional issuance of a Coastal Development Permit at the March 9 Board meeting. In February, the California Coastal Commission voted unanimously to certify the PMPA on its consent calendar. The Port will now go back to the Coastal Commission once more so they can accept the adopted PMPA before the project can commence.

Installation of the native oyster living shoreline could begin as early as this spring, but could be this fall or spring 2022, dependent on the native oyster recruitment season. The project objective is to demonstrate the ability to attract and establish native oyster populations that create structurally complex “reef” habitat for fish, birds, invertebrates, and aquatic plants. The project is also expected to improve local water quality via oyster water filtration and settling of sediments, as well as increase wetland connectivity to intertidal and subtidal lands.

This project will utilize a modular approach under which constructed reef ball elements will be placed in a series of six arrays at two tidal elevations. Each reef array includes 15 reef groups composed of four reef ball elements made of baycrete (concrete mixed with local sand and shell aggregate) placed in a square pattern for a total of 360 reef ball elements and 90 reef groups.

After installation, the pilot project and the adjacent shoreline will be monitored and assessed for five years to capture the amount of growth of native oysters on the reef elements; learn about the presence and/or absence of non-native species on the reef elements; learn how the reef impacts or enhances local species richness of fish and mobile invertebrates within the project footprint; and determine the ability of the reef elements to catalyze sediment accretion or reduce erosion of sediment shoreward of the project.

The Port is undertaking several efforts to evaluate and assess the potential impacts of future sea level rise and come up with solutions to protect our diverse ecosystems and more. This project is a result of over five years of collaboration across a project team representing state and federal agencies, academia, local government and the non-profit sector. If successful, it will result in the permanent placement of the reef. Project partners share an interest in addressing shoreline protection, fishery populations and health, and climate change in San Diego Bay through scientifically supported alternatives to shoreline armoring.