Evaluating nature-based beach restoration projects to inform policy

Adapting to sea level rise (SLR), storm erosion, flooding, and other coastal hazards in the face of climate change poses difficult challenges, particularly for Southern California’s sandy beach ecosystems. Degraded coastal strands and dune habitats on these extensively used and highly urbanized beaches provide exceptional opportunities for Natural and Nature-Based Features (NNBF) restoration projects that enhance coastal resilience. These projects can provide an innovative adaptation strategy to increase resilience, and there is an increasing need to inform coastal adaptation strategies. University of Southern California (USC) Sea Grant funded a study to measure the physical and biological responses of beach systems to NNBF implementation to address key data gaps. The goal is to develop realistic and feasible expectations for coastal resilience from beach NNBF projects and inform coastal management, adaptation, and policy.

Key Results:

  • 2023 publication in Frontiers in Marine Science
  • Accumulation of over 1,700 cubic meters of sand across the site, with the formation of foredunes up to a meter in height. Vegetation cover increased to approximately 7% cover by the sixth year. No vegetation cover or foredune establishment occurred on the adjacent groomed control site. 
  • LA Times and National Public Radio press. 
  • Field surveys of 10 other dune restoration sites; data is being analyzed


Project Impacts & Application:

  • Partnerships with The Bay Foundation; BEACON; Santa Barbara Coastal Long-Term Ecological Research; The California Dune Science Network 
  • Annual presentations at the Beach Ecology Coalition Annual Meeting; American Shore and Beach Preservation Association National Conference; California Dune Science Network Annual Workshop; Southern California Academy of Sciences Annual Meeting
  • Presentations to the California Coastal Commission, State Coastal Conservancy, California State Parks, California Ocean Protection Council, and California Department of Fish and Wildlife


Principal Investigator:

Jenifer Dugan, Ph.D., University of California, Santa Barbara



NOAA, 2022-2024


Additional Info and Publications:

Access our Publications Database to view publications from this project or other related topics