Is Mother’s Beach for the Birds?

Community based monitoring (CBM) is “a process where concerned citizens, government agencies, industry, academia, community groups, and local institutions collaborate to monitor, track, and respond to issues of common community concern” (Ecological Assessment Network, 2002, Whitelaw et al. 2003). As a graduate student in the social Sciences, I am interested in the factors that motivate people to participate in community based monitoring programs. In partnership with the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors, our team convened a group of citizens interested in volunteering their time to help with such a monitoring program to determine what could improve the program’s structure. After our first meeting, we determined that it would be interesting to have the volunteers examine the bird population at Marina Beach, which locals know as “Mother’s Beach.” There has been speculation that the abundance of birds at the local beach directly correlates to its long history of poor water quality. Recently, an article in Argonaut addressed this issue as Mother’s Beach was recently voted the second worst beach in the state of California by Heal the Bay.  These kinds of proclamations causes us to wonder what data have been collected to make such assumptions.


Snowy Egret


As a bird lover, I was excited to begin a program collecting data that will hopefully defend my avian friends. Personally, I love seeing them at the beach and for me they are part of the draw. After identifying the appropriate framework in which to develop and implement a community based monitoring program for Mother’s Beach, I began the process of recruitment. I reached out to local community groups such as the Los Angeles Audubon Society and the Friends of Ballona Wetlands, as well as local universities such as my alma mater, LMU. The goal was to gather a group of individuals to conduct one morning and one afternoon survey each week for a period of 3 months. Participants were provided notebooks that included data sheets, bird guides, and the survey protocol, developed by∂le Dan Cooper, a local Field Biologist. The program ran from March through May and we collected 30 surveys on bird presence and human activity. At the end of the monitoring period, Dan Cooper analyzed the data and presented preliminary findings to the volunteers and the Department of Beaches and Harbors. The data suggest that it is premature to make any definitive conclusions without obtaining long-term data on the bird populations at the beach and how they correlate with the water quality testing being conducted by the County. My research goal was to help create a sustainable program that will provide real data to help make these decisions.


Least Tern


By engaging interested individuals form the community, and having them actively help provide novel data to shed light on the issue, I feel that my goal was reached. Because I, and the Department of Beaches and Harbors hope to make this data stronger by doing a longer study, please email if you are interested in helping the birds of Mother’s Beach have a voice or if you are interested in learning more about the data collected. ) When my project is completed, we will post the report on the CURes website – so, stay tuned!


Least Tern

Drawings for this blog post are all by Mara Thompson.  To see more of her work, please visit her website.


April EDITEDAbout the Author:  April Sandifer has a bachelor’s degree in Urban Studies from Loyola Marymount University. Currently she is enrolled in the newly created Urban Ecology graduate program also at Loyola Marymount. Her graduate work focuses on green space development and community based monitoring. April was an LMU Sustainability Intern, and the first Rains Research Fellow at CURes. She also has experience working in the fields of property management and construction in the city of Los Angeles. Currently, April manages all operation and budget issues for the CURes. In addition, she works closely with local community, government, and non-profit organizations to establish and maintain networks for student and faculty research.