We’ve written at length about using natural materials to restore degraded coastlines. The strong natural composition of oysters makes them a popular choice for these projects and in Southern California, one scientist is combining native oysters with the power of seagrass to promote coastline resiliency.
Kate Nichols is the marine restoration director of Orange County Coastkeeper. She’s working to protect Newport Bay from the impacts of rising sea levels, but traditional sea walls can actually do more harm than good by blocking natural tidal fluctuations and sand migration. Plus, they are disruptive to marine animals.
This is why Nichols is focusing on oysters. In partnership with California State University, Long Beach, and California State University, Fullerton, the Orange County Coastkeepers have transported more than 40,000 pounds of Pacific oyster shells. These shells serve as a home for native Olympia oysters lacking habitat. When larvae make their way into the shells and root on the seafloor, they form a natural band of coastline protection.
Since the project began four years ago, the region has already seen significant improvement. The oyster bed helps trap sediment to prevent erosion, and each organism can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day, improving water quality.
Following the successful oyster transplantation, Nichols and her team are now looking to introduce other healthy marine solutions to the bay. Their new focus is planting eelgrass, which serves to also hold coastlines during storm surges and capture immense amounts of carbon from the atmosphere. When combined with oyster beds, they provide a healthy carbon-sucking habitat for other marine life.
The program has been highly successful so far, but the team says they must fully evaluate the impact of their work before it can serve as a blueprint for other endangered coastlines.
Additional resources: PLOS ONE – Oyster Reefs as Natural Breakwaters