Ongoing construction work off the coast of Calafia State Beach in San Clemente aims to expand the man-made reef, which will most likely be considered the largest in the world.
A bulldozer scoops out and drops huge boulders into the Wheeler North Reef, which is a few kilometers off the shore. On the barge’s elevated deck, two biologists watch the sea and call a temporary halt to work when a sea creature swims into the construction site. Divers also make sure that the placement of July’s rocks matches the blueprint.
This expansion project will increase the size and scope of the world’s largest man-made reef from 174 acres to around 385 acres. The boulders will aid giant kelp to thrive in the area, which in turn provide a suitable living environment for marine life.
Southern California Edison is building this project to compensate for the damage to marine life resulting from the development of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) in the 1970s. Even though the nuclear power plant was shut down in 2013, the original 150-acre reef fell short of luring about 28 tons of fish needed. This concern led to the construction of additional underwater structures.
The job also provides a lifelong task for Edison project manager Jenny McGee, a habitat restoration specialist. “This reef is always going to be here. It’s going to be a home for sea life well beyond my life,” McGee said.
Completed in 1988, the original Wheeler North Reef stretched at about 1.5 miles south of the San Clemente Pier. With this expansion project, the reef will extend to reach north of the Pier. Then, it will soon have a total length of approximately 5 miles. This artificial reef will beat the Kan-Kanán reef of Quintana Roo, Mexico, which was recognized as the longest man-made reef in 2015.
Moreover, the original 120,000-ton Wheeler North Reef will increase in size and scope with the addition of 150,000 tons. Sunken ships also have become large artificial reefs. It includes the 44,000-ton aircraft carrier, USS Oriskany, which sits right off the coast of Pensacola, Florida.
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