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Sunday, January 20 , 2019, 8:13 pm | A Few Clouds 60º


Captain’s Log: Fish Reef Project Is Making a Healthier Ocean

Researchers are testing the waters with a small pilot project off Arroyo Burro Beach

An organization called the Fish Reef Project is working hard toward helping the ocean be more abundant and clean. I support this project strongly and asked Executive Director Chris Goldblatt to write something up to give us an understanding of what they are doing and the importance of their work. Following are his notes.

Nearly 40 years ago, the Japanese set out to increase the abundance of their local marine resources. After collaborating with their many prestigious fisheries science institutions, they determined that the best course of action was to create a robust man-made reefing program. Forty years and $500 million later, the Japanese have managed to boost the average level of marine life abundance off their coastal waters to healthy levels and even reverse downward trends in some fish stocks. They initially went nuts, using everything from massive apartment building-sized structures to lattice shapes to interlocked steel I-beams.

In the end, they found that the very best structure was what they called “Turtle Block” (Review Japanese Fishing Tech — Grove/Sonu, 1983). The Turtle Block is a one-ton concrete igloo with holes in it and a pebbly rough surface, very much like the modern reef balls used by the Fish Reef Project.

This Japanese science was later translated by Southern California Edison when creating its amazingly successful 172-acre SONGS reef, which now boasts vast kelp forests and millions of fish off of San Onofre.

The key aspect of the Japanese reefs is that they were placed in temperate waters, very much like our own, and they proved several critical points. The first was that each Turtle Block recruited (created new life, not attracted life from other places) about 400 pounds of biomass (total of all living things) per year and 100 pounds of which were fish. The Japanese study further found that each Turtle Block recruited on average three to four abalone per year. This is important as the fish reefs off our coast can really help rebuild our abalone population that we all care about so dearly.

With more than 500,000 reef balls already in 70 countries, the science is rock solid and proves that reef balls can and will restore imperiled species, take pressure of natural reefs, provide study and offer fishing opportunities for all. These reefs are low-cost and do not require any investment of public funds, yet they generate revenues for city, state and federal agencies while helping us increase our knowledge of how life generates in the sea.

The Fish Reef Project is working on permitting for our first five-acre reef. We are considering several local sites for the reef. To test the waters, so to speak, we are working on a very small pilot project off Arroyo Burro Beach in 40 feet of water. The project will consist of nine medium reef balls, each surrounded by four smaller ones. The reef ball groups will be spread about 30 feet apart.

The purpose of this pilot project is to see how well the reef balls recruit life in our local waters and check for any sand flow or movement issues. The balls are anchored to the seafloor using fiberglass rebar stakes that are hurricane tested — so they will not move. The reef balls for the pilot project are actually part of the bivalve aquaculture operation. The Fish Reef Project simply provides the balls to the operation, and they deploy them and fall under their permitting. The public legally cannot be denied access to fish or study the balls; however, the balls will be used as anchor points for the hanging oyster and muscle culture, so we ask that the public does not touch any gear belonging to the aquaculture operation.

We will work closely with UCSB and other NGOs to study the pilot reef while collaborating with the aquaculture operation.

To maintain our integrity and independence, the Fish Reef Project operates mostly off donations from private individuals, clubs and small entities. The master reef project will cost $700,000, and we are an all-volunteer operation — nobody draws a salary or makes a penny from this, so we do need a few heavy hitters to step up and donate to make the reef a reality.

Naming rights for the master project will go to the single largest donor or to the first to donate $1 million. A reef is the very last permanent long-lasting legacy any person or group could hope for — the reef will continue to give new life, clean the water and remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere for thousands of years.

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit softininc.blogspot.com to learn more about the organization and how you can help.

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