by Photo courtesy of the Port of San Diego

South Bay residents may see more than 300 new “reef balls” placed along the coastline by the Port of San Diego in an effort to address rising sea levels, protect and create marine habitats. 

Installation of the South Bay Native Oyster Living Shoreline Project, spanning approximately 29,700 square feet of intertidal shoreline, is adjacent to the Chula Vista Wildlife Refuge. The project aims to attract and establish native oyster populations that create structurally complex "reef" habitats for fish, birds, invertebrates, and aquatic plants. 

“The Port of San Diego is proactively and continuously planning for and implementing various strategies to reduce the impacts of future sea level rise,” said Chairman Michael Zucchet, Port of San Diego Board of Port Commissioners. “We are grateful to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California State Coastal Conservancy and Builders Initiative for their support of this important project that will strengthen coastal resiliency along our waterfront while also helping to protect and enhance the diverse ecosystems in and around San Diego Bay.” 

According to a port statement, each reef array includes 15 groups composed of four reef ball elements made of baycrete, a concrete mixed with local sand and oyster shell aggregate, placed in a square pattern for a total of 360 reef ball elements and 90 reef groups. Reef ball elements are being placed in a series of six arrays. The elements will be placed at specific elevations to optimize recruitment of native oysters. 

This $960,000 project is fully funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Builders Initiative, covering the fabrication, installation, and long-term monitoring of the project. The total "footprint" of the reef ball elements would be substantially lower at 5,760 square feet. 

The project also aims to improve local water quality through oyster water filtration and settling of sediments, as well as increase wetland connectivity to intertidal and subtidal lands. Living shorelines use natural elements such as oysters for stabilization place of the traditional hard armoring, such as rip rap revetment and sea walls that are currently seen around the bay. 

In partnership with the California State Coastal Conservancy and US Fish and Wildlife Service, this project intends to increase biodiversity in San Diego Bay habitats. 

“The State of California is investing in the health and resilience of its shorelines to protect our communities and economies, while supporting the biodiversity of our coastal habitats,” said Amy Hutzel, Executive Officer, California State Coastal Conservancy. “This project demonstrates the potential of nature-based solutions to help one of California’s most iconic and vibrant waterfronts keep pace with rising seas.” 

The South Bay Native Oyster Living Shoreline Project will be monitored and assessed for five years to study the amount of growth, impacts on local wildlife, presence and/or absence of non-native species. If successful, the reef will be permanent.

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