“The success of the project was evident on the ground, but the aerial view from the drone provided an entirely different perspective in which the restoration site stood out like an island within a groomed landscape,” Emery said. “The data we collected with the drone surveys allowed us to build digital elevation models and estimate the sand accumulation and increase in elevation of the restoration site relative to the adjacent beach.” Six years after it began, the general elevation across their pilot study area increased by about 0.3 meter (about 1 foot), including a higher foredune ridge with a 0.9 m maximum elevation and 1-m dunes along the perimeter. The accumulation of sand into dune forms was assisted by native vegetation, which trapped sand as it blew into the area, forming hummocks and dunes.
Humans weren’t the only ones who noticed the new landforms; shorebirds, and especially the threatened western snowy plover, had started to make use of the new dune landscape to roost.
Waiting for nature and conducting scientific research was probably the easier job. The collaborators simultaneously undertook a massive information campaign aimed at the local beach community, explaining what the project was for and what they could expect.
“The City of Santa Monica was a fantastic partner,” Johnston said. “They are very forward-thinking about climate change.” City staff dedicated time and effort to sending out mailers, building a website, generating blogs and leveraging social media. They also added informative signs at the site to explain the importance of coastal resilience and set up meetings so the researchers could directly answer any questions from the public.
What’s important to remember, according to the researchers, is that human involvement was also part of the vision. “What we really wanted to do was to let people interact with the site and to not impact recreational opportunities,” Johnston said. Hence, while the area was marked off with signs requesting minimal disturbance, the oceanward side of the plot was unfenced to open it to recreation.