Fish Reef Project aims to help ocean life thrive
Chris Goldblatt has been on a mission ever since he was 9 years old and working on the Malibu fishing boats.
Diving into Santa Monica Bay hundreds of times gave him what he called “a bond and open mindedness toward nature at a young age.”
Ever since, he’s been determined to give back, and he presented his cause July 16 on a webinar put on by the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum.
The ocean lover founded the Fish Reef Project, with the mission to turn empty seafloor into thriving marine ecosystems again by implementing manufactured fish reefs. His goal for California is what he calls a “simple solution” — a two-acre pilot reef in the middle of Goleta Bay made from natural rock.
“The kelp beds off Santa Barbara are for the most part gone,” Mr. Goldblatt told the News-Press. “El Niño scoured the bottom, and there’s no recharging of the system. You just don’t have any material for the kelp to attach to.”
The project isn’t just focused in Goleta Bay. Mr. Goldblatt has reef projects in Papua New Guinea, Jamaica, Africa and Hawaii too.
About half the project is self-funded and the other half is donations. He said he’s been working 40 hours a week for 10 years with no salary.
“It’s something that I’m committed to spending the rest of my life doing and then handing off to the next generation,” Mr. Goldblatt said. “In the next hundred years, there’s going to be an incredibly compacted use of ocean space, and the only way to make sure overfishing doesn’t occur is to increase the net productivity of the main area.”
With these manufactured fish reefs, Mr. Goldblatt said hard-packed mud on the seafloor will become breeding and feeding grounds to “millions of marine mammals, sea birds, turtles, fish, lobster, abalone, scallop, marine algae and more.”
He added that pressure on natural reefs will be reduced.
Mr. Goldblatt said this reef production will even provide a backstop food source for the next time there’s a pandemic.
“Because we live in Santa Barbara, if we’re able to restore those kelp forests, it’s a backstop food source we can turn to if we have to,” he said.
The 1982 El Niño storms caused a loss of kelp forests a thousand feet wide from El Capitan to Carpinteria. Boulders that come off hills and provide beds for kelp have also been worn down or stopped from entering the ocean by humans.
“All we’re doing is putting back what humans stopped in the first place,” the founder said. “Giant kelp is a birthright. It’s like a sequoia tree. It’s the heart of our marine ecosystem, and it keeps it alive. It’s the very nexus of the marine ecosystem, and from there, everything else blossoms.”
He said the process of implementing the Goleta Bay reef will cost $300,000 to complete the permitting process, which takes about a year. Then the overall reef construction and implementation requires $3 million, and he said the money must come from donors.
Mr. Goldblatt said he can offer donors the “best possible legacy anybody ocean-minded could ever want”: to name the reef after the donor.
“A reef is more permanent than a park,” the founder said.
“There’s no back end business model here. We’re not selling carbon credits; we’re not harvesting kelp. It’s just public space mitigation. We’re relying on altruistic donors to do it.”
He added that if the project doesn’t start the permitting process now, it could “lose political alignment.”
His lecture detailing the Fish Reef Project aired this week on TV Santa Barbara, a community access station.
The marine advocate has a bachelor’s degree in fisheries and business from Humboldt State University in Northern California. He has lectured at UCSB and been an International Seabed Authority observer, contributor and speaker.
Mr. Goldblatt is also an author, business owner, fisherman, diver and fishing boat owner and operator.