Fall 2014

Doug George & Marilyn Latta

Working to Stem the Tide of Rising Seas


DOUG GEORGE (‘99, Oceanography) and Marilyn Latta (‘95, Marine Biology) have combined their expertise to address the effects of rising sea levels on marine life and shoreline erosion.

Latta, a project manager for the State Coastal Conservancy, and George, an oceanographer with Applied Marine Sciences, Inc., are using natural materials to create a barrier that will protect the land and offer habitat for ocean-dwelling species in San Francisco Bay.

Their approach—called “Living Shorelines”—has already been successful along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Until recently, it hadn’t been tested on Pacific shores.

“There hasn’t been a lot of the combined biological/physical approach here, but we have erosion issues in San Francisco Bay that will only get worse with climate change,” says Latta. “It’s pushed us to think about how we can do habitat restoration while also taking a physical approach against wave action.”

George says it’s nice to work with a fellow HSU alum. “We rely on understanding each other’s background of trying to do good things for the planet, given realities of budget constraints and other things that get in the way of idealism.”

Latta’s role in the Living Shorelines demonstration project, located on a one-acre plot near San Rafael, has focused on constructing a reef of oysters and eelgrass to encourage eelgrass growth and shellfish inhabitation.

George and his colleagues are looking at how the same barrier will reduce wave energy, relocate sediment and stabilize shorelines from erosion.

So far, the results have been promising. In addition to seeing an increase in oyster numbers, other species like Dungeness crab, salmon, shrimp and snails, have started using the reef. Sediment has also built up inside the reefs. “In some places we’ve observed a build-up of 16-20 centimeters of sticky, mushy mud,” says George.