Adapting to a Changing Environment

California State Coastal Conservancy

Entry Overview

General Info
Email :
Organization Address: 
1330 Broadway, 13th Floor
Oakland, 94612
United States
Population Impacted: 
32,259,000 in coastal counties in California (, 2010)

3,427 miles of coastline in California (NOAA, 2010)

Major Occupations: 
Tourism, Fishing
Local resources the community depends on, and for what purpose: 
The communities of coastal California depend on the ecosystem services provided by our beaches, islands, bays, and nearshore habitats of our coastline. The California coast also supports large commercial and recreational fisheries that provide jobs, touri
Local threats to resources: 
California?s coastal resources are threatened by human development, pollution, and the effects of climate change. Native coastal and marine habitats that once thrived on the California coast are now depleted. Historically, eelgrass and native oyster beds
Climate Hazards: 
Increases in sea level rise, storm surge, and coastal flooding, impacts of predicted climate change, threaten the coast of California in several ways. These impacts will lead to increased shoreline erosion along beaches, cliffs, and other coastal ecosystems. Hard infrastructure like seawalls, breakwaters, and revetments have been erected to protect valuable and necessary coastal development, which only further exacerbates the problem by redirecting wave action, flooding, and sedimentation to other vulnerable areas. California?s bay communities, such as San Francisco Bay and San Diego Bay are especially vulnerable to sea level rise, coastal storms, and flooding due to low lying elevations and intense urban development. Current predictions from the NOAA sea level rise and coastal flooding impacts viewer show that much of the coastal development in these bays would be either submerged or would become low lying areas with a sea level rise of 3 feet, which is far below the predicted future levels. When this is combined with greater and more frequent storm surges and high tides, the effects will be compounded. Impacts to nearshore and marsh ecosystems in the bays will be extreme, possibly losing much of the marsh habitat that has been protected and restored over the past 20 ? 30 years.
Level of exposure to these hazards: 
High- Coastal areas will be the first and hardest hit communities when climate change takes effect.
Level of sensitivity: 
High- California?s coastal ecosystems are already impaired, and therefore are less resilient to climate change. Human activities have destroyed much of the coastal and marine habitats that naturally served to buffer storm action and coastal flooding.
Level of adaptive capacity: 
The areas along California?s coast with natural shorelines and the ability for the coastline to migrate and shift with rising sea levels will have higher adaptive capacity than areas that are constrained by infrastructure such as seawalls and armored shorelines. California has a highly diverse population, with communities that range in their ability to adapt to climate change impacts. Those communities who do not have the ability to adapt, which are often found in low-lying areas, will be the most impacted.
Describe Your Solution: 

Our solution seeks to restore and protect California?s shoreline ecosystems and communities using an innovative restoration technique known as the ?living shorelines? approach. A living shoreline is defined as a nature-based solution that uses ?a suite of bank stabilization and habitat restoration techniques to reinforce the shoreline, minimize coastal erosion, and maintain coastal processes while protecting, restoring, enhancing, and creating natural habitat for fish and aquatic plants and wildlife? (NOAA Habitat Restoration Center). The shoreline of California historically included a diverse patchwork of native oyster beds, eelgrass beds, marshes, and other subtidal and intertidal habitat that acted as a buffer against storm surges, sea level rise, and coastal flooding. Human activity has destroyed much of this habitat along the California coast, and by recreating and restoring this native habitat, we hope to provide a foundation for native species to recover and once again provide these important ecosystem services. Living shorelines provide living space for estuarine and coastal organisms, while increasing connectivity of wetlands, intertidal and subtidal habitats, and providing a measure of shoreline protection. Although living shoreline techniques have been implemented in other regions such as Chesapeake Bay, the concept is new to California, and we are conducting pilot studies at multiple sites along the California coast in order to see which techniques and methods work best. Working with local partners, we have implemented pilot projects in San Francisco Bay and Alamitos Bay and a third project is in development stages in San Diego Bay. One of our goals is to have these pilot projects serve as a model for communities to create ecosystem based solutions for shoreline protection without having to depend on large and expensive hard infrastructure projects like seawalls and armored shorelines. Living shorelines can be scaled up or down to suit a specific community?s needs and resources, so the method can be replicated as a lower cost, lower technology method of shoreline protection and habitat restoration.

Ecological Costs: 
This project is testing new restoration site designs at specific sites along the coast of California. Each site has unique characteristics that may cause different results even with applying identical techniques, timing, and approach. Potential impacts
Ecological Benefit: 
Native oysters are ?ecosystem engineers? that can colonize and add structure to both hard and soft substrates, increasing bottom roughness, reducing current speeds, and as a result, trapping sediments. Oysters also increase physical heterogeneity, which
Economic Indicators used to measure benefit: 

Biological indicators that are measured as part of our monitoring protocol include: Native oyster recruitment, native oyster density and growth rates, competitive species recruitment and survival, invertebrate species richness, presence of fish species at the project site, eelgrass establishment and spread in sites that include eelgrass planting efforts, and observations of bird usage of the sites. Physical indicators will include changes in wave action, currents, and sedimentation and erosion rates.

Community/Social Cost: 
There is no community cost that we can see from restoring native oyster habitat.
Community/Social Benefit: 
Restoring and enhancing natural shorelines will allow nearby communities to enjoy more natural space and recreation in these areas, while protecting communities from the impacts of climate change. The hard infrastructure solutions that are currently used to protect shorelines from climate change block the community from the living coast and portray the ocean as a threat instead of an important natural resource. Restoring native coastal habitat creates an opportunity to educate the community about the importance of this habitat that has gone functionally extinct and to showcase the natural processes that can buffer climate change impacts.
Community/Social Indicators used to measure benefit: 
Community outreach tools are an important part of creating a living shoreline model that can be replicated on a small scale. In our completed small-scale pilot restoration project in Alamitos Bay, three community workshops have been held to engage community members in the restoration process. So far, 401 volunteer hours have been recorded for installation of the oyster reef. Orange County Coastkeeper and CSU Fullerton, two of our partners implementing this project, offer field trips forlocal elementary and high schools in the area. A total of 230 students are booked for 7 days of field trips, which will teach students about the importance of filter feeding organisms and will use the oyster restoration site as a teaching tool.
Economic Cost: 

The project in Alamitos Bay cost $25,000 for a small oyster bed installation, while the San Francisco project cost a total of $1.5M, which includes design, construction, and two years of biological and physical monitoring. One advantage of living shoreline projects is that they can be scaled up or down to reflect the available budget and size of the community. Projects will also become less expensive over time as best practices are established and materials sourcing becomes easier.

Economic Benefit: 

Economic benefits will come from the reduced cost of rebuilding damaged infrastructure after a flooding or storm event. The living shoreline approach encourages using natural shoreline habitat to buffer from the effects of climate change, so that less coastal infrastructure will be damaged when climate change impacts occur. Living shoreline solutions are also often much cheaper to install than hard infrastructure, and when properly managed do not take as much maintenance as hard infrastructure.

Ecological Indicators used to measure benefit: 

The worst effects of climate change are yet to be realized in California, so the comparison of benefits from living shorelines in the area is yet to be determined

What were/are the challenges your community faced in implementing this solution?: 

In some areas, gaining community support and involvement was a hurdle because people were not aware of the benefits or purpose of the projects. Education and outreach took more effort than originally anticipated, but in the end was successful. Finding material to rebuild oyster beds was also a challenge at some sites. Native oysters like to settle on hard substrate, preferably other oyster shells, finding a source of shell is a factor in living shorelines projects. We worked with a local company who wanted to dispose of oyster shell, which created a win-win situation to provide supplies for the project and take the material off of the company?s hands.

Describe the community-based process used to develop the solution including tools and processes used: 

Many non-profit organizations, government agencies, universities, community groups, and local stakeholders have been involved in the process of developing and implementing our proposed solution to restore nearshore habitat while also protecting shorelines in the bays and estuaries of California. The State Coastal Conservancy is bringing these partners together across the State to share research methods and results and to seek more opportunities to implement these projects. See the ?Describe the Solution? section below for more information. Public input meetings were held prior to the start of each project, and community volunteers participate in monitoring efforts at some locations Volunteer training workshops and events were open to the community and publicized via posted flyers and website and email distribution. Over 19 partners, from non-profit, academic, public, and private sectors have collaborated on the design and implementation of our solution.

Climate hazard of concern: 
How does your solution reduce the exposure of and buffer/protect the ecosystem affected?: 

The destruction of subtidal habitat such as oyster reefs and eelgrass beds have left California coastal areas highly exposed to climate hazards like storm surge, sea level rise, and flooding. Living shorelines aim to restore some of the native vegetation and shellfish beds, in order to replace physical structure to reduce this exposure. Preliminary results indicate that the oyster beds have been shown to reduce wind energy, thus buffering and protecting coastal habitat and infrastructure. Seagrass beds also dampen wave energy, stabilize nearshore sediments, improve water quality via nutrient uptake, and provide food and shelter for marine organisms. When used in conjunction with shoreline or marsh habitat restoration components, a natural shoreline buffer is created that reduces coastal erosion protects communities from flooding.

How does your solution reduce the sensitivity of the ecosystem affected?: 

Along with reducing the exposure of the shoreline to the effects of climate change, living shorelines increase the biodiversity and robustness of coastal ecosystems by restoring native species habitat. Loss of habitat complexity limits the abundance of many types of estuarine and marine organisms and their potential contribution to the pelagic and epibenthic food web, thus increasing the sensitivity of the ecosystem. Eelgrass beds and oyster reefs provide habitat and food sources for aquatic species like shrimp, crabs, and fish; and bird species like Osprey and Surf scoters. Because the ecosystem supports more species and functions, it may be more resilient and less sensitive to changes in climate.

How has your solution increased the capacity of the ecosystem to adapt to potential climate changes?: 

Restoring subtidal and intertidal habitat and native species along the coast of California may reduce the need for installing hard infrastructure like seawalls or revetments to protect communities from the effects of climate change. We hope to integrate the restoration of oyster beds and eelgrass beds with also restoring intertidal habitats like marshes and mudflats. This will create linkages between habitats and provide a buffer zone where storm surges can dissipate before reaching coastal infrastructure. Restoring habitats along the coast will also provide room for habitats to move farther inshore as sea level rise takes effect.

How does your solution reduce the exposure of and buffer/protect the communities affected?: 

Much of the developed coastal shoreline is currently protected by hard infrastructure like seawalls and revetments. While these structures provide the immediate area with temporary protection from erosion and wave action, they change the patterns of erosion and sedimentation to adjacent areas and are not a permanent solution to the effects of climate change. Restoring coastal habitat through creating a living shoreline will allow the natural progression of the shoreline to take place instead of accelerating the effects of climate change in areas that are not protected by hard infrastructure. Low income communities are often situated in areas that are vulnerable to flooding, so living shorelines have the potential to protect the communities that are most exposed to climate change and have the least capacity to deal with the effects.

How does your solution reduce the sensitivity of the communities affected?: 

Living shorelines reduce the sensitivity of coastal communities by providing a natural buffer zone between coastal climate change impacts and the infrastructure that communities depend on. Since coastal communities in California also depend heavily on healthy coastal ecosystems for livelihoods in the fishing and tourism industries, strengthening the ecosystems that provide these services will also decrease the sensitivity of community livelihoods to the effects of climate change

How has your solution increased the capacity of local communities to adapt to potential climate changes?: 

Creating a living shoreline to build habitat, stabilize sediment, and buffer against climate change impacts will provide the community with an example of climate adaptation that works with nature instead of against it. One of our goals is to increase local knowledge and change attitudes about the methods and processes for adapting to climate change. We hope to gain support from our community and to create a model for living shoreline projects that can be used by local partners throughout the state on a small scale community based level.

Can this solution be replicated elsewhere?: 

Yes. Our goal is to replicate native oyster and eelgrass restoration projects in other appropriate areas in California to restore habitat and protect our shoreline. The first and largest project is in San Francisco, a smaller site has been installed in Alamitos Bay, and we are currently monitoring baseline conditions at 5 sites in San Diego Bay to implement a native oyster restoration site there in the near future. Some factors for project success have been: appropriate region, depth, and sediment for eelgrass and/or oysters, willing landowners with reasonable timeframe for permits and approvals, and community and stakeholder input.

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