In an effort to restore biodiversity to the coastline and add resiliency to the ecosystem, a local nonprofit is engaging communities to become stewards addressing ecological problems on the coast. Bill Henry, executive director of the nonprofit Davenport Groundswell Coastal Ecology, spoke to San Mateo County Harbor commissioners about creating living shorelines. He identified several areas in and outside of Pillar Point Harbor as ideal for starting a pilot project. 

“There are a lot of people who live here because they are close to the coast. Part of it is looking out at the horizon. The other is looking down at what is at our feet,” Henry said. 

Creating a “living shoreline” refers to the process of integrating elements of green into the buildout of a coastline. Rather than using a concrete seawall or other hard structure, a living shoreline creates a protected, stabilized coastal edge made of natural materials. 

“In heavy use areas of the coastline, we have lost an immense amount of biodiversity,” Henry said. 

Within the harbor, Henry said the West Trail and the jetty dunes are prime spots to create a living shoreline because they both have a fair amount of invasive species, low biodiversity and erosion. Other areas include portions of the inner and eastern harbor. 

A pilot project is typically identified as a starting point, and the project can grow with feedback. Groundswell volunteers assist in implementing the project. 

“Then we generally work with a volunteer leader to be a liaison between the landowner to accomplish goals,” Henry said. “Which then turns into a multi-year project.” 

Ways to create living shoreline treatments include planting marsh, installing organic materials and constructing oyster reefs that dissipate wave energy before it reaches shore. It also involves removing invasive species and replacing it with native ones that are known for supporting flora for pollinators. This helps attract birds and mammals to create a more biodiverse ecosystem.  

The cost to start a project depends, explained Henry. Costs can be offset by the use of community volunteers and other agencies that can provide funding. It can be about $4 per square foot, but he said the price can be reduced by using local people who want to volunteer and take leadership. 

Groundswell has already seen success in living shoreline projects in Santa Cruz County, according to Henry. 

Notable changes to the vegetation are usually the first indicator a living shoreline is working. Henry said research indicates an increase in bees and bird populations. 

“From an ecological standpoint, things happen really quickly,” Henry said. 

Commissioner Edmundo Larenas said he’s interested to learn more about a potential pilot project.

“We are already looking at the West Trail and doing some shoreline replenishment, and this could be a key component of it,” Larenas said. 

Henry said he hopes to continue having conversations with the Harbor District to start a pilot project here. 

“A harbor is such a gem of a coastal asset. Ecologically speaking, it is an incredible slice of geography,” Henry said. “And there is a big opportunity to make it a lot better.” 

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