Engineering firm creates new collaboration with Rutgers University to develop oyster reef-based coastal resilience system

On November 15, 2022, WSP USA, an environment, engineering, and professional services consultancy, announced that it is collaborating with Rutgers University on a joint project to develop an engineered oyster reef ecosystem that will help protect coastlines from storm waves and erosion.

Reefense: A Mosaic Oyster Habitat for Coastal Defense,” being led by Rutgers University, was recently awarded a $12.6 million grant by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The project will support protection of coastal civilian and Department of Defense (DoD) infrastructure and personnel vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

WSP will lead the preparation of project permits and manage construction of reef modules and complimentary mosaic habitats, such as saltmarshes and seagrasses.

WSP also will work with other regional project partners to design and implement field experiments to investigate the effects of structural design on oyster predation and survival, and to collect field data at the project site to characterize existing site conditions and impacts of the project implementation.

Nature-based solutions are more adaptable to changing environmental conditions caused by climate change,” said Nigel Temple, WSP environmental consultant and coastal restoration specialist.

This project seeks to expand the capabilities of these solutions to complement DoD needs — which are varied due to the diversity of DoD deployment or installation sites. For example, reef modules are expected to cost less to manufacture and will be more easily deployable than contemporary reef structures,” he explained.

Our work in the Gulf Coast and elsewhere in coastal areas around the world demonstrates WSP as a leader in this field and we are thrilled that Rutgers put its faith in our firm as a partner for this important environmental work,” Temple added.

WSP has been involved in a variety of coastal restoration projects using engineered oyster reefs, including the Franklin-98 Living Shoreline, which will create 20 acres of oyster reefs and 30 acres of saltmarshes to repair eroded areas of the Apalachicola Bay shoreline along Highway 98 in Franklin County, Florida.

WSP also is monitoring the development of oyster reefs in Pensacola Bay, Florida, and supported the Living Breakwaters project off the coast of Staten Island, New York.

Sea level rise and more frequent and severe storm events are accelerating erosion along the coast and putting critical infrastructure at risk.

Conventional coastal protection is often rigid and has limited living components such as oysters or saltmarshes.

As such, these structures provide little ecological value, are susceptible to damage over time, can exacerbate storm surge damage, and require routine maintenance and, ultimately, replacement.

One of the goals of Reefense is to engineer an ecologically functional structure that leverages the multi-benefits of nature-based solutions.

Engineered oyster reefs provide the strength of hard structures to attenuate wave action and help protect shorelines, the ability to self-heal after storm damage and the ecological uplift created by the organisms that colonize the structure support biodiversity and improve water quality.

The reef system will use biodegradable concrete and a low-carbon material in a structure that will provide adaptive capacity to allow oysters to migrate upwards as sea levels rise.

This will be the first use of biodegradable concrete with mechanical stability and life-span durability, which will create a productive and resilient base structure for oyster colonization and resilience.

Oysters and other filter feeders that colonize the reefs help to clean the water and serve as food sources for other marine organisms, while the marshes provide important habitat for birds, crabs, fish and other species,” Temple concluded. “In turn, the ecological restoration supports the fisheries production, recreational opportunities and improved water quality.”

David Bushek, director of Rutgers’ Haskin Shellfish Research Laboratory, is leading the project.

In addition to WSP, partners on the project include the University of Melbourne, the University of Western Australia, the University of Central Florida, Mississippi State University, Louisiana State University, Auburn University, the Partnership for Delaware Estuary, and the University of Arizona.

Photo of Florida coast by Paul Brennan from Pixabay.

See Haskin Shellfish Research Laboratory website.

See WSP website.

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