About the Project

Sandy beaches and their adjacent surf zones provide important habitat and prey resources for birds, wildlife and fish that feed on the abundant intertidal and subtidal invertebrates in the beach food web.  Beach ecosystem functions also include water filtering, nutrient cycling, and accumulating and storing sand that can buffer the impacts of storm waves and surges. Beach ecosystems are also highly valued and intensively used for recreation including beachcombing, jogging, sunbathing, surfing, swimming, birding and wildlife viewing, picnicking, dog-walking, and volleyball, frisbee and other sports, as well as shore-based fishing, clamming and bait collection.

Sandy beach ecosystems are strongly linked with other nearshore ecosystems. For example, beach food webs rely largely on subsidies from adjacent ecosystems, thus the amount of wrack and plankton delivered to these food webs is dynamically linked to the features of adjacent ecosystems and nearshore ocean characteristics. The condition of beach ecosystems can in turn affect the reproductive success of beach-nesting fishes and birds. Measuring and monitoring these trophic linkages on sandy beaches will help us assess direct and indirect effects of MPAs in the south coast region.

The Baseline Characterization of Sandy Beach Ecosystems project was led by scientists at the Marine Science Institute at the University of California Santa Barbara with collaborators from Sonoma State University, Romberg Tiburon Center at San Francisco State University, and Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. In this project, scientists identified and measured important linkages between sandy beaches and other nearshore ecosystems to produce a comprehensive baseline characterization of sandy beach ecosystems in the South Coast region. This quantitative baseline will be used to evaluate future changes in important ecological features of sandy beaches and linkages with other nearshore ecosystems.

The project team surveyed a number of pairs of MPAs and adjacent reference beaches on the mainland coast from Gaviota to San Diego over 2 years.  These results were used to investigate potential indicators of ecosystem conditions that can be applied to increase our understanding of how the condition of sandy beach ecosystems may provide insights on the condition and functioning of MPAs in the South Coast MPA network. The project team also developed and tested new protocols for potential use in long-term monitoring of beach ecosystem features involving citizen-scientists.


Researchers described their findings from this project in a technical report, released in March 2015. Click below to read the report on California Sea Grant’s website.

Final Report: Baseline Characterization of Sandy Beach Ecosystems


Data from this project will be coming soon. 

Data from 3 of the study beaches is currently available on the Santa Barbara Coastal Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) project website: http://sbc.lternet.edu/cgi-bin/showCollections.cgi?stage=by_habitat&habitat=beach&submit=submit


Dugan, J.E., D.M. Hubbard. Sandy beach ecosystems. Contributed chapter in Ecosystems of California (eds. E. Zavaleta, H. Mooney) University of California Press. (in press)

Dugan, J.E., D.M. Hubbard, B.J. Quigley. 2013. Beyond beach width: steps toward identifying and integrating dynamic ecological envelopes with geomorphic features and datums for sandy beach ecosystems. Geomorphology 199: 95–105 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.geomorph.2013.04.043

Hubbard, D.M., J.E. Dugan, N.K. Schooler, S. Viola. 2014. Local extirpations and regional declines: the case of endemic upper beach fauna in southern California. Est. Coastl Shelf Sci.150: 67-75. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecss.2013.06.017

Lafferty, K.D., J.P. McLaughlin, J.E. Dugan. 2013. Novel foraging in the swash zone on sand crabs (Emerita analoga, Hippidae) by mallards. Wilson J. Ornithol. 125(2): 423-426

Schlacher, T.S., D.S. Schoeman, A.R. Jones, J.E. Dugan, D.M. Hubbard, O, Defeo, C. H. Peterson, M. Weston, B. Maslo, A.D. Olds, F. Scapini, R. Nel, L. R. Harris, S. Lucrezi, M. Lastra, C.M. Huijbers, R.M Connolly. 2014. Metrics to assess ecological condition, change, and impacts in sandy beach ecosystems. J. Env. Mgmt. 144: 322-335.

Schlacher, T.S., A.R. Jones, J.E. Dugan, M. Weston, L. Harris, D.S. Schoeman, D. Hubbard, F. Scapini, R. Nel, M. Lastra, A. McLachlan, C.H. Peterson. 2014. Chapter 5: Open-coast sandy beaches and coastal dunes. J. Lockwood, B. Mazlo (Eds.) pp 37-94 In: Coastal Conservation. Cambridge University Press, Series in Conservation Biology

Schooler, N. K., J. E. Dugan, D.M. Hubbard. 2014. Detecting change in intertidal species richness over time on sandy beaches: calibrating across sampling designs. Est. Coastl Shelf Sci.150: 58-66 150: 58-66.

Viola, S., J.E. Dugan, D.M. Hubbard, N.K. Schooler. 2014. Burrowing in beach fill, implications for recovery of sandy beach ecosystems. Est. Coastl Shelf Sci. 150: 142-148.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecss.2013.09.003