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By Daniel Ritz

During a 2017 performance review meeting held at the Ocean Institute on April 9, it was revealed that Wheeler North Reef—the artificial low-relief reef constructed in 2009 close to a mile off of the shores of San Clemente in order to mitigate damages to the San Onofre kelp forest from discharge from the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS)—failed to meet requirements for mitigation credit for the ninth consecutive year.

Dan Reed, a research biologist from the University of California-Santa Barbara (UCSB) Marine Science Institute (MSI), the group contracted by Southern California Edison to monitor the reef’s mitigation performance, explained that performance standards are split into two categories: absolute and relative standards. The 174-acre reef, monitored by 92 transect points along the reef, must meet all absolute standards and as many relative standards as the lowest performing reference reef in a given year. The most accurate reefs used for comparison are San Mateo and Barn reefs.

Concerning giant kelp growth standards, Reed explained that Wheeler North did not meet absolute standards of 150 acres of adequate kelp density coverage. In 2017, only 72 of the necessary 80 transects needed to meet the 150-acre standard were met.

Kate Huckelbridge, a senior environmental scientist for the California Coastal Commission (CCC), explained that fish standing stock failed to reach its absolute standard of 25 tons, only achieving 18 tons.

Reed explained that due to the number of juvenile giant kelp in areas failing to meet requirements, he is forecasting that kelp standards are not expected to meet standards for mitigation either.

Plans to expand the reef to as much as double its current size to encourage successful remediation by extending north toward Dana Point could begin as early as summer 2019. To learn more about the Wheeler North Reef project, visit

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