A section of the Wheeler North Reef as viewed from above in 2010, before the kelp was fully filled in. Photo: Andrea Swayne
A section of the Wheeler North Reef as viewed from above in 2010, before the kelp was fully filled in. Photo: Andrea Swayne

By Jim Shilander

The artificial reef constructed by Southern California Edison off the coast of San Clemente saw a major uptick in its fish stock last year, putting in closer to compliance for the California Coastal Commission’s mitigation requirements.

The reef was constructed between 1999 and 2008 in order to provide a new kelp forest in the area following a reduction in the size of the forest near the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. The reef has been meeting standards for the size of the kelp forest, hard substrate and a lack of adverse effects from invasive species for several years, but its fish stock numbers have remained lower than the 28-ton standard. In 2014, however, the stock jumped from approximately 14 tons to more than 25.5 tons, potentially putting it on track to comply in the coming years.

David Kay, project environmental manager at Edison, said he is optimistic that the 28-ton standard will be met next year (though the stock must also be higher than 28 tons for a three year average period). Hypotheses for the increase include a warming trend in water temperatures in Southern California, since natural reefs used as a comparison to Wheeler North saw similar increases in their own stocks.

In June of 2014, the nonprofit Reef Check organization, sent volunteer divers to check the health of 30 meters of natural reef off of Dana Point in Marine Conservation Area waters and found the kelp in this area to be more stable and healthier than any other kelp in Orange County, according to Colleen Wisniewski, regional manager for Reef Check California.

“It’s clear what’s happening didn’t just happen on the mitigation reef,” Kay said. “Regional trends tend to be longer lived than something that’s just happening at a single location.” —Andrea Swayne contributed to this article.

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