Abstract The bioavailability and toxicity of copper (Cu) in Shelter Island Yacht Basin (SIYB), San Diego, CA, USA, was assessed with simultaneous toxicological, chemical, and modeling approaches. Toxicological measurements included laboratory toxicity testing with Mytilus galloprovincialis (Mediterranean mussel) embryos added to both site water (ambient) and site water spiked with multiple Cu concentrations. Chemical assessment of ambient samples included total and dissolved Cu concentrations, and Cu complexation capacity measurements. Modeling was based on chemical speciation and predictions of bioavailability and toxicity using a marine Biotic Ligand Model (BLM). Cumulatively, these methods assessed the natural buffering capacity of Cu in SIYB during singular wet and dry season sampling events. Overall, the three approaches suggested negligible bioavailability, and isolated observed or predicted toxicity, despite an observed gradient of increasing Cu concentration, both horizontally and vertically within the water body, exceeding current water quality criteria for saltwater.