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150 Volunteers Complete First-Ever Oyster Restoration in Upper Newport Bay


  • Coastkeeper lays 40,000 pounds of Pacific oyster shell in hand-sewn bags to protect shoreline

For the first time, more than 150 volunteers hauled 20 tons of Pacific oyster shell in hand-sewn coconut fiber bags to restore Upper Newport Bay as part of the groundbreaking Living Shorelines project. Orange County Coastkeeper’s effort is unique to the west coast, combining oyster shell and eelgrass restoration to protect the shoreline from erosion and rising sea levels. Coastkeeper anticipates that this will improve water quality and result in a flourishing habitat for fish, invertebrates and other marine life.

Unlike most restoration projects that rely on plastic mesh bags, this endeavor with oyster shells used entirely biodegradable materials. In April, students and volunteers hand-sewed more than 500 bags using coconut coir, the fiber found on coconut husks, and filled the bags with 40,000 pounds of Pacific oyster shells. Then, for a full week, they woke up before dawn to transport the shell into four different sites in Upper Newport Bay during low tide.

“It’s not every day you see students from four universities and volunteers wake up at 2 a.m. to protect and enhance our shoreline,” said Orange County Coastkeeper Marine Restoration Director Katie Nichols. “Their hard work and dedication to the project was inspiring and we hope to see it pay off in the form of improved water quality and an enhanced native Olympia oyster population.”

Over the last five years, Coastkeeper and hundreds of volunteers planted more than 2,500 square meters of eelgrass as part of the Living Shorelines project and have already noted improved water quality and an increase in marine life. Now with oyster shell added to the site, Coastkeeper will use the restored area as a case study to study the potential benefits of restoring eelgrass and oysters simultaneously. As we continue to monitor the area, Coastkeeper anticipates seeing more signs of habitat improvement, including increased endangered Olympia oysters and other native species.

Many east coast groups have seen positive results from laying oyster shells to naturally buffer shorelines from sea level rise, but few projects examine the combined benefits of oyster and eelgrass restoration simultaneously.

Since the 1990s, more than 85 percent of the world’s oyster reefs have disappeared according to The Nature Conservancy. Coastkeeper says in order to keep pace with future sea level rise and other climate-related stresses, conservation and restoration of these key habitat-forming species must happen now.

For more information about Living Shorelines, visit Coastkeeper’s website.


ORANGE COUNTY COASTKEEPER: Founded in 1999, the mission of Coastkeeper is to protect and promote sustainable water resources that are swimmable, drinkable, and fishable. Coastkeeper is a nonprofit clean water organization that serves as a proactive steward of our fresh- and saltwater ecosystems. We work collaboratively with diverse groups in the public and private sectors to achieve healthy, accessible, and sustainable water resources for the region. We implement innovative, effective programs in education, advocacy, restoration, research, enforcement, and conservation. For more information, visit or call 714-850-1965.