Bay Foundation fights beach degradation

One might not think much of a ragweed plant, but this sand growing species and others like it have the ability to fight erosion, protect from sea level rise, and increase biodiversity — pretty impressive for a little shrub.

The Santa Monica-based Bay Foundation is capitalizing on the power of coastal plants to help fight beach degradation through its Malibu Living Shoreline initiative.

The Malibu program focuses on building dune habitats at Zuma and Point Dume beaches using over 20 different native plant species. The project seeks to increase resiliency to erosion, expand wildlife habitats, implement nature-based protection against sea level rise, and engage the community through enhanced beach experiences.

The Malibu initiative is based on the success of a pilot program in Santa Monica that restored three acres of coastal wildlife habitat and became the site of the first Snowy Plover bird nesting recorded in L.A. in 70 years.

To create these living shorelines the Bay Foundation is partnering with the City of Malibu, Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors, and California State Coastal Conservancy.

“We have seen how living shoreline projects enhance the recreational value of these beaches and create spaces where wildlife and native vegetation thrive,” said California State Coastal Conservancy Executive Officer, Sam Schuchat. “In Malibu, these dunes will help stabilize and protect a well-loved beach while preserving the character of this piece of shoreline. By restoring much of the natural function to this beach, the living shoreline will become dynamic and self-sustaining, providing ongoing protection and habitat.”

The project works by using plants as natural dune builders. Currently beaches groomers flatten the sand, which while great for clearing trash and creating a spot to plop a towel, does little to prevent erosion and promote biodiversity.

Dune habitats, on the other hand, create a natural barrier against storm surges and sea level rise. Native plants help build dunes by accumulating sand blown by the wind and then growing out of these sand piles.

“I like to think of it as the sand and the plant playing a bit of leapfrog, where the plant will build up the sediment that will bury it and will then grow out from it. It really helps build that dune topography,” said Chris Enyart, Bay Foundation watershed programs project manager.

The team is currently replacing non-native plants, which are often not dune building and do not increase biodiversity with environmentally beneficial species like the noble ragweed plant.

However, unlike ragweed, many of the new plants ​bloom with bright beautiful flowers, bringing color to the coastline. These ​natives coastal plants include buttercup yellow beach evening primroses and violet and fuchsia sand verbena.

The living coastline beach sections are protected by low level fences and are left alone by beach groomers. Residents are encouraged to explore these habitats through pathways down the middle and learn about the project through educational signs.

“Our beaches are huge drivers for not only the economy, but also for the community,” said Enyart. “It’s a place for recreation, it’s a place for escape, It’s a place to enjoy the outdoors, and we’re hoping these projects can enhance that beach experience.”