Environmental Lecture Recap – The Bay Foundation

On Wednesday, January 24th, the Center for Urban Resilience (CURes) hosted the 4th lecture in the 2017-18 Environmental Lecture Series: Imagining a Resilient Future. The lecture was presented by Tom Ford and Karina Johnston in the Ahmanson Auditorium, University Hall 1000. In addition to teaching in the Seaver College of Science and Engineering, both presenters are members of The Bay Foundation (TBF), an organization devoted to protecting and restoring the Santa Monica Bay. Ford is the Executive Director and Johnston is the Direct of Watershed Programs. Additionally, Ford serves as a co-director of the recently launched Coastal Research Institute at LMU.

The Lecture was titled “Evaluating and Enhancing Natural Systems As Adaptation Strategies for Climate Change”, and focused primarily on two projects TBF is conducting to address climate change impacts in the Santa Monica Bay. The presenters defined six environmental stressors: drought, sea level rise, warmer water, warmer air temperature, ocean acidification, and increased storminess. Each stressor poses a unique threat to the plants, animals, and people who occupy the Santa Monica Bay. However, these threats can be mitigated by restoring natural systems that support healthy and resilient ecosystems.

Johnston discusses the Santa Monica Beach Restoration pilot project

The first restoration project, presented by Johnston, is the “Santa Monica Beach Restoration Pilot Project”. The goal of the Pilot Project is to restore three acres of heavily impacted beach into a  healthy and resilient ecosystem. In December 2016, TBF installed low sand fencing to prevent human disturbance and encourage the formation of dunes, which will help manage beach erosion and sea level rise. They then seeded the enclosed area with native plants, which include beach evening primrose and sand verbena. Because these plants have evolved to thrive in their natural environment, they will require less upkeep than other species. They will also prevent beach erosion and provide the ideal habitat for native wildlife. An exciting new development on the beach is the return of the snowy plover: a small endangered bird that has not been seen in L.A. or Orange County since the late 1940s. Their return is attributed to a combination of habitat recovery and an end to commercial beach grooming in certain areas, as snowy plovers nest in the sand. TBF is ecstatic to have plovers back on the beach after 70 years and will continue to monitor and protect the population alongside the Audubon Society.

Ford discusses kelp restoration in the Santa Monica Bay over a 2.5 year period

The second  initiative, presented by Ford, is the “Kelp Forest Restoration Project”. Over the last 100 years, the Palos Verdes Peninsula has lost 75% of its kelp forests, which were once some of the most productive ecosystems in the world, supporting over 700 species of plants and animals. Kelp forests provide numerous other environmental services, including sediment retention, wave strength attenuation, and carbon sequestration, which may help reverse the effects of climate change. Sedimentation, urban runoff, development, increased storminess and increased water temperature are the key factors that have limited kelp growth in the past century. In addition, overfishing has greatly reduced the number of sea urchin predators, which has allowed reefs to be overrun by purple urchins. These strange animals not only compete for reef space; they eat the kelp as well. The resulting “urchin barrens” are desolate environments, infested with malnourished and diseased urchins that have  few ecosystem benefits. The goal of the “Kelp Forest Restoration Project” is to restore kelp forests through manual predation of unhealthy urchins. Divers have spent 7500 hours underwater, removed 3.4 million sea urchins, and restored 41 acres of forest to date.

The success of these projects is evidence that investing in natural systems is an effective way to defend against climate change. TBF will continue to work in applied research projects to better the health of Santa Monica Bay ecosystems.

The next lecture in the series will be presented on February 28th by Dr. Demian Willette (LMU Biology), and titled “Urban Land, Urban Sea: How Walnut Trees, Sushi, DNA & Slime Mold Can Solve LA’s Environmental Challenges.”

Stay tuned for more exciting news and events from CURes, TBF, and the Coastal Research Institute!

Written by Liam Chamberlin (CURes Media Intern)