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Preserving Coastal Habitats: Santa Monica undergoes second dune restoration project

Members of the Bay Foundation, the sustainability sector of the city of Santa Monica and Santa Monica’s Beach Maintenance Crew joined together on March 14 to start a second dune restoration project after a six-year pilot project proved successfully implemented

Posted on April 1, 2024

Santa Monica is moving forward on its second dune restoration project. Coordinated by The Bay Foundation, adjustments made to the city’s beach maintenance regimen will allow for the restoration of natural habitats. 

For decades, Santa Monica’s shores have been cleaned with tractors that raked the sand flat for beachgoers. Raking beaches can disrupt the natural balance of sand retention and the development of ecosystems.

With the increase in storms in Southern California, the current state of local beaches makes them vulnerable to withstand sea level rise, explained Alexandria Tower, the director of the Coastal Adaptation Program at The Bay Foundation.

The dune restoration project will undo that damage by roping off four polygons totaling five acres and introducing native dune vegetation as seeds and juvenile plants.

The Bay Foundation team collected seeds locally from the Santa Monica Bay coastal region for the restoration project, including vegetation like beach burr, beach saltbush, beach evening primrose and red sand verbena.

“We’re going to make it prettier. We’re going to install native plants for greater biodiversity, to protect shorebirds like the Snowy Plover,” Tower said.

Efforts began on March 14 in front of the Annenberg Community Beach House — extending the unique ecosystem even further in the Los Angeles region.

The second dune restoration location is roughly a quarter-mile south of the first restoration from 2015, which spans three acres, hosting dunes that are about 4 feet tall.

Tower emphasized that beach ecosystems, including dunes and vegetation, play crucial roles in stabilizing sand and preventing erosion.

“As the water gets higher and higher here, the dunes are going to be helpful in creating a buffer between the ocean and these houses and that cliff,” Tower said. “The idea is that with this soft nature-based kind of defense, we don’t see as much erosion.”

She went on to explain that man-made barriers actually exacerbate the issue.

“When we build armoring, some sort of hard scape, like a wall or riprap, it actually enhances the scouring of the sand and pulls sand away,” Tower said.

Karina Johnston, a senior restoration ecologist and a researcher of the pilot project, hopes that dune restoration is considered one solution for adaptation to sea level rise.

“I think there’s a lot of opportunity for it in Los Angeles and up and down the Southern California coastline,” Johnston said.

She described a cycle in this habitat, scientifically known as a feedback loop, wherein coastal strand vegetation accumulates sand, forming dunes beneath and supporting the growth of more vegetation.

Alexandria Tower stands in front of a rented U-haul truck full of their project equipment while Santa Monica Beach maintenance helped gather driftwood and distributed it throughout the area

In addition to slowing erosion, as Tower mentioned, Johnston cited other environmental benefits including carbon sequestration, water filtration, flood protection, habitat for species and overall improved biodiversity.

The dune habitat not only enhances the aesthetic appeal, Johnston continued, but benefits the community interest for recreational dune observing.

“Certainly we want to be able to go and enjoy the beach, play sports and take our kids in, and I think that it’s really important to consider a balance   between recreation and these benefits that we’re looking for,” Johnston said.

A follower of The Bay foundation, Laurene Von Klan, was very excited about the second restoration project — adding that she was drawn to Santa Monica because of its environmental recreation opportunities.

“Looking at things and getting to learn what lives here and what we share the planet with is part of being in Santa Monica. It’s part of the experience,” said Von Klan.

Nico Predock, the sustainability     analyst for the city of Santa Monica, also connected emotionally to this restoration as he grew up surfing these beaches.

“It just makes me happy to see these types of projects go up and see the native habitat come back and offer all these benefits,” Predock said.

He noted that the dunes will also be accessible to the public as requested by the California Coastal Commission.

“There aren’t any signs saying that people can’t go within the protected areas, but there will be designated paths to walk through the dunes,” Predock said.

“(The city of Santa Monica) was really excited to have a demonstration project on its beach and be able to use it as an opportunity to engage the community and to talk to the community about coastal resilience and protection from flooding and sea level rise,” Johnston said.

She added that the project can also serve as an example to other local and state municipalities considering what types of measures they can implement to help protect their coastlines.

“Climate change impacts, like sea level rise and flooding, can be scary,” Johnston said. “So knowing that there are opportunities for these types of solutions is really exciting.”


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