Combining infrastructure and ecology: Oysters find new home in SF's Presidio tidal marsh

BySpencer Christian and Tim Didion KGO logo
Thursday, November 25, 2021
Oysters finding new home in SF's Presidio tidal marsh
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A project along the San Francisco Bay is merging architecture with wildlife conservation. So far, the oysters are loving it.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A project along the San Francisco Bay is merging architecture with wildlife conservation.

Wildlife ecologist Jonathan Young, is sloshing into the waters of the Presidio's newest tidal marsh, to see the difference a year makes since the project began.

RELATED: Oyster beds created for wildlife restoration in new Crissy Field marsh

His focus, oysters, now making themselves at home in a variety of prefabricated pods and panels put into service beginning last November.

"The goal again is to maximize oyster recruitment, so get them to come and settle on to these panels and grow," Young explains.

The project essentially began with the opening of Quartermaster Reach. It's a restored tidal marsh, stretching inland from the edges of Crissy Field and connected by a culvert system, allowing salty Bay tides to mix with a historic freshwater stream.

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Rising sea levels and recent storm surges have been causing faster-than-usual erosion along Hawaii's beaches and shorelines.

Young showed off raised panels temporarily removed for inspection during a recent dive. Like the dome-shaped pods placed in the marsh itself, the panels provide the native Olympia oysters with a home to attach themselves to along the cement walls of the culvert.

"Oysters, oysters, oysters, oysters, all those are oysters," he says happily pointing to the small circular oysters attached to the panel.

The oyster introduction is actually an ongoing experiment, not just in urban ecology, but design evolution and the way we adapt our cities and coastline to climate change. The textured fiberglass panels were specially designed, created with the help of Evan Jones and Margaret Ikeda, and designers from the California College of the Arts.

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"I thinks it's part of a very new way of thinking about infrastructure design and ecology together," says Jones.

And Ikeda believes numerous projects around the Bay could benefit.

"You know, the San Francisco seawall, while they're going to be protecting both airports, the Port of Oakland is looking for different strategies. So this kind of work definitely informs," she says.

Young says the Presidio team is still learning about the physics of the tidal marsh, which areas the oysters will thrive in and what other species might be benefiting along with them. And as renovation projects continue along Crissy Field, the marsh will evolve as a kind of a living petri dish, potentially giving ecologists and engineers innovative designs that can be duplicated around San Francisco Bay.

"Things are changing and we need to adapt, and it's unknown. So these are opportunities to use science to advance our knowledge," says the Presidio's Young.