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U R B A N Oyster

The Urban Oyster is a student scientist monitoring  project providing youth with direct access to the resources their community relies on and capacity building skills to measure and document the human impacts affecting them. The project bridges university and agency conducted research and scientists with high school students while the students serve as stewards of their research to community stakeholders such as recreational groups, younger students and the general public. Connecting students to the environment, educating the public and receiving professional mentorship are essential to empowering participants and fostering a sense of agency and ownership within their physical and cultural community. Capacity building within our class allows students with a scaffold to develop and investigate their own scientific research questions. The HTH Urban Oyster Project is a partnership between HTH, Shelter Island Basin Yacht Clubs, the Port of San Diego , and local scientist experts in the academic and private sectors.

Check out the resources below to learn more as well as our AMAZON WISH LIST.

The Urban Oyster Project aims to establish and assess biotic environmental monitoring methods through community partnerships, expert consultants and student designed research.  The Palmer Biology Class at High Tech High was invited by recreational yacht clubs in the Shelter Island Yacht Basin to explore aquatic ecosystem response by focusing on oysters. Shelter Island Basin’s built environment features are dominated by recreational marinas and yacht clubs. These facilities have boats with copper infused paint to prevent the growth and damage from fouling organisms such as algae and barnacles. The contrast between recreational marina impacts, military impacts and other activities is being explored and somewhat contentious. Recreational activities are an increased focus of regulatory agencies as a source of anthropogenic impacts to the environment. The partnership between High Tech High and the yacht clubs provided students, scientists, and other stakeholders and opportunity to explore these dynamics, potential monitoring methods and foster a connection between local youth to the environment and STEM professionals. Work on this project, including in situ monitoring, was reviewed and approved by scientists at the Port of San Diego prior to deployment. Support for this project was provided by Tim Bartlett, Port of San Diego; John Adriany, San Diego Yacht Club; Dr. Danielle Zachler and Bryce Perog at Cal State Fullerton; Kevin Stolenzbach, WSI; Dr. Luke Miller and Lauren Strobe, San Diego State University.  


Student scientists were trained in monitoring abiotic indicators ranging from nutrients, dissolved oxygen, pH, temperature, and salinity. The greater challenge was the biotic indicators because they required foundational knowledge to identify them and understand their ecological origins, roles and impacts. Additionally, they were changing frequently and particularly tied to seasonal fluctuations. Students were directed to focus on oyster populations for biotic monitoring, an indicator species. 

Why oysters?

Oysters are a little celebrated species but these bivalve shellfish are indicator species. This means that they provide significant environmental services to the ecosystems that they reside in so that a struggling indicator species foreshadows negative ecosystem impacts in the future.  Oysters provide services including habitat, food, shelter, water filtration, storm impact reduction and commercial products. Oysters form reefs, growing on top of each other in or around the intertidal zone. Oysters in San Diego Bay have transitioned to man made structures as natural habitats are changed or destroyed and are plentiful on pier pilings in particular.


There has been an escalating interest in restoration and environmental assessment using oysters with a number of local, state and federal projects. In 2021, the Port of San Diego was awarded $960,000 to develop artificial oyster reef substrate with 300 reef balls with a focus on protecting the South Bay from rising sea level impacts (Rodriquez, 2021). Artificial reef substrate known as cultch was placed in tidelands in San Rafael in the San Francisco Bay and monitored between 2007-2011 (California Department of Fish and Wildlife, 2022). The Zalcher Lab at Cal State Fullerton started focusing on science based oyster restoration research in 2010 (Cal State Fullerton, 2022). .

Project Logistics,  Partnerships and Pedagogy

The High Tech High Urban Oyster Project launched in May 2022 with initial abiotic monitoring and development of the first Oyster Condo. The condos are in situ oyster spat collector designed to be a recruitment surface for oyster larvae during spawning season. They are not designed for harvesting purposing and consist of local oyster shells procured from the Port of San Diego, PVC and plastic mesh. 


Embedded Educational Structure

The Fall quarter of monitoring was conducted as embedded coursework with Kalle Palmer’s Biology 1-2 and 3-4 courses at High Tech High. High Tech High’s project based learning educational design focused on authentic student driven work as well as proximity to the Shelter Island Basin sites allowed for this. After a foundational lab and field work segment, student groups designed, proposed, conducted and defended research questions. Questions explored the connection of abiotic elements to oysters while assessing the efficiency, accuracy and ease of abiotic and biotic monitoring. Student scientists provided a unique opportunity for a citizen science data collection that required a degree of skill, content knowledge and oversight for this unique project. 


Tenets of Pedagogical Design for the Urban Oyster Project

Central tenets of this experience for students focused on a mentorship pipeline, exposure to the STEM field, environmental connection, community engagement and agency. The mentorship pipeline consisted of our students receiving mentorship from partnerships with faculty at Universities and scientists in agency and private sectors, university students and then providing mentorship to younger students in middle and elementary schools in the High Tech High Point Loma Village and beyond. The mentorship provided valuable exposure to various fields of STEM. Community engagement was facilitated in field work at the clubs and school Exhibitions while the environmental connection focused on exposure to environmental services we locally receive and rely on. The connection also allowed for recreational and social activities at our sites to counter the workload and endurance required on an extended data collection focused  project. The tenets of agency and engagement are focusing so that youth can feel empowered to act on their needs and wants regarding their community, an opportunity to validate their voice in the public realm beyond the K-12 educational incubator. 

Student Designed Research (Folder of work here by student name)

  • Assessing Springtime Temperatures and pH on Oyster Abundance at Shelter Island Yacht Club by Angie, Brody, Alex

  • Nutrient and Metal Analysis and Oyster Settlement in Shelter Island Yacht Basin by Jayden, Owen, Valerie

  • Assessing Dissolved Carbon Dioxide and Oyster Populations in Shelter Island Basin by Jhari, Autumn, Alex R, Santiago

  • Documenting Water Temperature and Oyster Settlement in Shelter Island Yacht Basin by Ally, Eddie, Axel

  • Algae Coverage Analysis and Oyster Settlement in Shelter Island Yacht Basin by Zion, Nate, Gio

  • Biotic Community of the Shelter Island Yacht Basin by Nayeli, Luke, Kai, Diego

  • Assessing Total Dissolved Solids and Salinity and Oyster Populations around Shelter Island Yacht Basin by Lindy, Henry, Niko

  • Assessment of Aquatic Climate Change Indicators and Oysters around Shelter Island Yacht Basin by Sophia, Giulietta, Maya

  • Legacy Metal Monitoring and Oyster Populations in San Diego Bay by Bryant, Sebastien, James, John

  • Microalgae Analysis and Oyster Settlement around Shelter Island Yacht Basin ​by 

  • Delilah, Marley, Gigi

  • Temperature Indicators and Oyster Populations around Shelter Island by  Nana, Jadiel, Rebecca

  • Assessing Tunicates impact and Oysters in Shelter Island Yacht Basin by Winter, Weldon, Liesl

  • Assessing pH and Dissolved Gas on Oyster Populations around Shelter Island Yacht Basin by Dezi, Amy, Victoria

  • Research Sites & Preliminary Oyster Monitoring Methods by Bryant 

NGSS Standards: Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems

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