New Homes for Oysters

In September, the State Coastal Conservancy achieved a critical milestone with the installation of 200 native oyster reef structures along Point San Pablo in the City of Richmond. The spherical and angular objects, made from a mixture of oyster shell, native sand and rock, and concrete (see photo), are intended to establish new beds of native Olympia oyster (Ostrea lurida) in San Pablo Bay.

Photo of spherical artificial reef structures on pier
Oyster reef structures awaiting installation (photo credit: Coastal Conservancy)


The installation of the native oyster reef structures marked the second phase of a multi-benefit pilot project by the Coastal Conservancy to create a living shoreline and improve habitat for Pacific herring, salmon, fish, birds, and a variety of other species in the San Francisco Bay. This second phase advances Task 5-2 of the Estuary Blueprint:

TASK 5-2: Increase populations of native oysters (Ostrea lurida) by expanding the extent of existing beds or establishing new beds on the bay floor.

BY 2021: Increase native oyster bed coverage in the Bay by 25 acres.

In 2016, the Conservancy, in partnership with Ducks Unlimited, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the City of Richmond, and others, removed over 400 tons of debris including 413 creosote-treated wood pilings, left along the Richmond shoreline from earlier industrial uses. Creosote, a distillate of coal tar used extensively throughout the 20th century to preserve wood exposed to water, leaches toxic chemicals including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or PAHs, which cause health problems for fish.

By removing the toxic debris and replacing it with a native oyster reef and, eventually, eelgrass beds, the San Francisco Bay Creosote Piling Removal and Pacific Herring Restoration Project seeks to use nature-based infrastructure to provide multiple benefits. “Living shorelines use nature-based infrastructure to protect shorelines in the face of sea level rise and increased storm surges while creating habitat for wildlife,” said Marilyn Latta, Project Manager for the Coastal Conservancy. “While this is still a pilot project, we see this approach as a great solution to protecting communities while also improving the water quality of the Bay and health of fish populations.” The oyster reef may reduce wave energy and prevent erosion along the shoreline, while the oysters, once established, filter pollutants from the water and improve water quality. The reef and eelgrass beds will provide spawning habitat for Pacific herring and other fish, which in turn will benefit diving ducks and other water birds.

Photo courtesy Coastal Conservancy/Ted Robertson, Dutra


The final phase of the project, planned for Spring 2019, will involve planting eelgrass beds along the 4-acre site, which will also advance priority actions in the Estuary Blueprint.

For more on living shorelines projects in the San Francisco Bay, visit the SF Bay Living Shorelines page. For more on the benefits of living shorelines and other nature-based infrastructure, visit our Stronger, Safer Shorelines page.