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California Harbor Reclaims Its Native Dunes After a Century of Degradation

Posted on December 10, 2023

A new project aims to restore the natural beauty and resilience of a harbor beach in southern California by creating dunes and planting native vegetation.

The project, which is expected to start in early 2024, will cover a 1.5-mile stretch of beach along the Dana Point Harbor in Orange County.

Why dunes matter for coastal protection

Dunes are mounds of sand that form along the shoreline due to the action of wind and waves. They provide a natural buffer against storm surges, erosion, and flooding, as well as habitat for wildlife and plants.

They also enhance the aesthetic and recreational value of beaches, attracting visitors and boosting the local economy.

However, many urban beaches in southern California have lost their dunes over the years due to human activities, such as development, beach grooming, and sand mining.

These practices have flattened the beach profile, reduced biodiversity, and increased vulnerability to sea level rise and coastal hazards.

To address this issue, several projects have been initiated in recent years to restore dunes and native plants on urban beaches in the region.

For example, a project on Santa Monica Beach has successfully grown a three-foot-tall dune system with native vegetation since 2017.

Another project on Zuma and Point Dume Beaches has restored four miles of dunes with straw bales and vegetation treatments.

How the project will work

The project on Dana Point Harbor Beach is a collaboration between the California State Coastal Conservancy, the County of Orange, and the Dana Point Harbor Partners.

The project will use a combination of sand nourishment, dune construction, and native plant installation to restore the beach, and will involve dredging sand from the harbor entrance and placing it on the beach to create a wider and higher berm.

The sand will then be shaped into dunes using bulldozers and other equipment.

The dunes will be planted with native species, such as beach bur, sand verbena, and beach evening primrose, which will help stabilize the sand and provide habitat for birds and insects.

The project will also include public access and education components, such as trails, signs, and interpretive panels.

It aims to balance the needs of the environment, the community, and the harbor users, while enhancing the natural and cultural resources of the beach.

It is expected to cost about $6.5 million, with funding from the State Coastal Conservancy, the County of Orange, and the Dana Point Harbor Partners.

The project is scheduled to begin in early 2024 and be completed by late 2024 or early 2025.

What are the expected benefits and challenges

The project is expected to bring multiple benefits to the beach and the surrounding area, such as:

  •  Increasing the resilience of the beach to sea level rise and coastal hazards by providing a natural buffer and reducing erosion.
  •  Improving the ecological function and diversity of the beach by restoring habitat for native plants and animals, and increasing carbon sequestration and nutrient cycling.
  •  Enhancing the recreational and aesthetic value of the beach by creating a more natural and attractive landscape, and providing opportunities for education and enjoyment.

However, the project also faces some challenges and uncertainties, such as:

  •  Obtaining the necessary permits and approvals from various agencies and stakeholders, and complying with the environmental regulations and standards.
  •  Coordinating the project activities with the ongoing harbor revitalization and development projects, and minimizing the impacts on the harbor operations and users.
  •  Monitoring and maintaining the project outcomes and performance over time, and adapting to the changing conditions and needs of the beach and the harbor.

The project team is working to address these challenges and uncertainties by conducting feasibility studies, engaging with the public and the stakeholders, and developing adaptive management plans.

The project team hopes that the project will serve as a model and a catalyst for other coastal restoration projects in southern California and beyond.


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