December 30, 2020 — The Port of San Diego is one step closer to creating a living shoreline to attract and establish native oyster populations while also protecting the shoreline from impacts related to future sea level rise. The first nature-based solution of its kind in San Diego Bay, the native oyster living shoreline pilot project and study is in collaboration with the California State Coastal Conservancy.

Installation of the native oyster living shoreline is expected to begin in spring 2021 adjacent to the Chula Vista Wildlife Reserve in south San Diego Bay. The project will use constructed reef elements to demonstrate the ability to attract and establish native oyster populations that create structurally complex “reef” habitat for fish, birds, inverts and aquatic plants. The project is also expected to improve local water quality via filtration and settling of sediments and also increase wetland connectivity to intertidal and subtidal lands.

“Living shorelines are an excellent resiliency strategy in the face of sea level rise due to their ability to naturally adapt and grow over time. The Port has long been concerned about sea level rise and undertakes several efforts to evaluate and assess the possible impacts,” said Chair Ann Moore, Port of San Diego Board of Port Commissioners. “For this project, and many others, we work with our regional partners to share information, plan for and come up with solutions to protect our diverse ecosystem.”

Prior to installation and construction, and due to its proposed location, the project requires a Port Master Plan Amendment, which was approved by the Board of Port Commissioners at its December 8 meeting. The immediate next step is for the Port to submit the Port Master Plan Amendment to the California Coastal Commission for certification. The amendment will add the project and project description to the current Port Master Plan, which would then allow the Port to issue a Coastal Development Permit and ensure consistency with the California Coastal Act.

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.

“Sea level rise is already impacting our shorelines and we need to take immediate actions to test and implement shoreline resilience projects,” said Sam Schuchat, Executive Officer of the California State Coastal Conservancy. “This project is at the cutting edge of techniques that protect and enhance our shoreline habitats and infrastructure.”

The project is the result of over five years of collaboration across a project team representing state and federal agencies, academia, regional 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 harmful shoreline armoring practices.