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Artificial Reef Leaves Fish Hungry

Audio

Aired 4/10/12

UC Santa Barbara researchers say the largest artificial reef off the West Coast is not producing well-fed fish as hoped. Southern California Edison’s permit to operate the San Onofre nuclear power plant depends on the ultimate success of the reef project.

UC Santa Barbara researchers say the largest artificial reef off the West Coast is not producing well-fed fish as hoped. Southern California Edison’s permit to operate the San Onofre nuclear power plant depends on the ultimate success of the reef project.

 Artificial Reef Leaves Fish Hungry

The 150 acre artificial reef is an experiment to replace 200 acres of kelp beds, lost because of heat discharged into the ocean by San Onofre’s cooling system. Thousands of fish feed in the kelp forest.

UC Santa Barbara researcher Steve Schroeter says, in this third year of the study, the kelp is doing great but it’s having unintended consequences.

“When there’s very high density of kelp, it shades out the the understory algae,“ he said. “The fish depend on the little moving invertebrates and critters that live in the algae, so with much less algae, you end up with less fish food."

Schroeter says the number of fish meets their goals, and so does the number of different species. But the fish near the new reef are underweight. Their total weigh is an estimated 16 tons, nowhere near the goal of replacing 28 tons of fish affected by the power plant.

Schroeder says Edison’s permit to operate San Onofre depends on successfully mitigating the marine damage, and the experiment has seven years to figure out whether that's happening. The project is independently managed by UC Santa Barbara

The results of this year's study will be presented at a workshop tonight from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Samueli Conference Center at the Ocean Institute in Dana Point.

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