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Man Made Tide Pools May Protect Land Around San Diego Bay

Crews install artificial tidepools on the coast of Harbor Island on Feb. 25, 2021
Port of San Diego
Crews install artificial tidepools on the coast of Harbor Island on Feb. 25, 2021

California’s tide pools are under assault from the warming planet, but the fragile ecosystems are getting a boost in San Diego Bay, thanks to the Port of San Diego.

“We need to be thinking about sea-level rise, right now,” said Rafael Castellanos, a port commissioner, while standing on the western edge of Harbor Island Park.

Man Made Tide Pools May Protect Land Around San Diego Bay
Listen to this story by Erik Anderson.

Just beneath him at the water’s edge is an artificial tide pool that provides an extra barrier against the impact of a warming planet.

“This technology obviously benefits the port because we can start to create living shorelines which will help accommodate sea level rise which will armor our coastline with nontraditional technology, not just rip rap, but now using technology that will enhance our ecosystems along the bay,” Castellanos said.

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VIDEO: Man Made Tide Pools May Protect Land Around San Diego Bay

Over the next few months, sea life in the bay should start to move into the manufactured tide pools and set up house.

“You’ll get algae,” Castellanos said. “You’ll get seagrass. You’ll get barnacles, sea anemones among other forms of marine life. That all will serve to sort of gel a biosphere over this artificial tidal pool system.”

In addition to the sea life, the tide pools make the rocky concrete barrier along Harbor Island a few feet wider.

“We are protecting against coastal flooding and are also making for a greener more productive ecosystem here at the Port of San Diego,” Castellanos said.

The Port of San Diego is investing $200,000 in EConcrete, the Israeli company that developed the idea.

If the company builds other projects in California, the port could more than double its investment. It is part of the port’s effort to encourage businesses in its blue economy incubator.

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“In the end, you’re adding infrastructure into the water,” said Ido Sella, a co-founder of EConcrete.

He is hoping to bring the Coastallock tide pool armor to other spots around the country. He called it a better alternative to just building a wall.

“Why not harness your existing infrastructure to provide similar existing services and save this effort of putting extra structures in the water?” Sella said.

The armor consists of 7,70-pound concrete blocks that interlock, to give the structure stability and rigidity to withstand the force of the water pushing against it. But the key to the project is how the concrete is mixed.

Unlike commercial or industrial concrete, this mix contains ingredients that are plant and animal-friendly — what Sella calls salt and pepper.

“That modify the concrete to become a better substrate for the balanced biology to grow on,” Sella said.

That is welcome news to Cory Pukini of Wildcoast.

“I know there are more sustainable types of concrete that don’t have as many additives, dyes, lye, things of that nature that can seep out over time,” Pukini said.

The conservationist welcomes efforts to expand a fragile habitat that’s under attack from warming ocean water and sea-level rise.

And he’s optimistic ocean species will find the habitats welcoming.

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“Yeah, and actually a lot of marine life that lives in that tide pool or that coastal zone is highly adaptable,” Pukini said. “I mean, they already have to, and when I say 'they,' I mean the species in tide pool systems, they have to adapt daily to rising and falling tides. Its fluctuating currents, temperatures, storms, incursion of freshwater. So, they’re highly adaptable species.”

Port officials will check in on the project every six months to measure progress.

If it works as advertised in San Diego it could make it easier to sell the idea to other California cities.