Beaches • Dunes • Bluffs

LAX Dunes overlooking Dockweiler State Beach

Beaches, Dunes, and Bluffs

Coastal dunes, bluffs, and sandy beaches are prominent features and dominant habitat types along the Bay coastline and support a variety of plant and animal species, including many rare species.  They also provide the only remaining habitat for the El Segundo blue butterfly, the California least tern, and the Western snowy plover, all of which are federally listed endangered species.  Many sandy beaches in the Bay are also important sites for grunion runs during their annual spawning season.

Most of the remaining habitats have been severely degraded by erosion and invasive species.  However, progress has been made in protecting and restoring these habitats.  The Bay Foundation has a long history of supporting and engaging in the restoration of coastal dune and bluff habitats, including restoration of coastal dunes in the Ballona Reserve, beach bluffs along Redondo Beach, and three coastal bluff sites on the Palos Verdes Peninsula.


Sandy beaches in Santa Monica Bay extend more than 50 miles, a prominent landscape feature and the most dominant habitat type in terms of length and acreage.  Santa Monica Bay beaches have changed dramatically over time, as several beach nourishment projects have added approximately 23 million cubic meters of sand to the shore, resulting in a much wider beach width than historic conditions.

Santa Monica Beach

Santa Monica Beach

Although sandy beaches traditionally have been, and continue to be managed primarily as recreation areas, they are also important natural ecosystems that link marine and terrestrial environments and are considered one of the seven major natural habitats in the Bay.  Animals and plants, including many endemic species, depend on sandy beaches for critical periods of their lives.  The habitat provides foraging and nesting grounds for many shore birds, fish, and marine invertebrate species, and is essential to the population recovery of two endangered species, the California least tern and Western snowy plover.  The protection of sandy beaches and an understanding of their condition has become increasingly important because of the roles of beaches in addressing the impacts of sea level rise.

TBF is implementing several beach dune restoration projects, including the Santa Monica Beach Restoration Pilot Project, the Manhattan Beach Dune Restoration Project, and the Malibu Living Shoreline Project. These projects will restore several acres of sandy coastal habitats to bring back a healthy, diverse coastal plant and wildlife community.  Additionally, they evaluate increased protection for our coastal infrastructure and residences from sea level rise and erosion, while also providing a vital refuge for invertebrates, birds, and rare coastal vegetation species.  TBF’s beach dune restoration projects will also serve as a model for the region, showing that heavy recreational use of Los Angeles beaches and meaningful habitat restorations are both possible.


The coastal dune system in Santa Monica Bay extends southward from the mouth of Ballona Creek to the Palos Verdes Peninsula.  The airport’s construction, oil refining, sand mining and urban development have all claimed most of the historical dune habitat.  Remnant dunes and bluffs (part of the dune system with consolidated sandy soil formations exposed near the beach) still exist.  These remnants can be found near Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), in the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve, on the property of Hyperion Treatment Plant, at the Chevron refinery sand dune park, and along a narrow strip on the beach (from the existing bicycle path on the seaward side to the first road, house, or parking lot).  These areas in the South Bay are defined by Ballona Creek to the north and the end of the Los Angeles County beach in Torrance to the south.

The El Segundo/LAX Dunes (LAX Dunes) in the City of Los Angeles, at the Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), is the largest remaining contiguous dune system in Southern California.  Covering a total area of over 300 acres, it is home to an estimated 900 species of plants, insects, and other wildlife.  Set aside as a natural wildlife preserve by LAWA, native plants and animals that once seemed destined for extinction, including the El Segundo blue butterfly and the California legless lizard, are thriving once again, thanks to large-scale habitat restoration efforts by LAWA and partners.  However, invasive species continue to encroach on the native plants, reducing the diversity and health of the ecosystem.  TBF has been supporting restoration efforts of the LAX Dunes at LAWA through coordination of monthly volunteer non-native vegetation removal events.

LAX Dunes - Big Sunday 2 May 2015

LAX Dunes – Big Sunday 2 May 2015

Remnant bluff habitats located on the Palos Verdes Peninsula have frequently been subjected to erosion and invasive plants.  Establishment of natural reserves and habitat mitigation requirements for new development has helped to protect bluff habitats in this region.  TBF has worked with the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy to restore some of these habitats; additional efforts to expand this work will continue.  As part of a restoration project completed in 2005 on the bluffs adjacent to Redondo Beach, a Beach Bluff Restoration Master Plan was also developed, which lays out a vision for the restoration of dunes and bluff scrub habitats along the southern portion of Santa Monica Bay, from Ballona Creek to the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

Looking toward the bluff below Loyola Marymount University

Looking toward the bluff below Loyola Marymount University


Santa Monica Beach - 22 Sept 2015

Santa Monica Beach – 22 Sept 2015