• English
  • Spanish
  • Korean
  • Filipino
  • Armenian
  • Chinese (Simplified)

Sandy Shores

Browse Other Habitats
left arrow
right arrow

Habitat Overview

Sandy shores are defined as open coast sandy beaches. These beaches extend for more than 30 miles (50 kilometers) along the shoreline of Santa Monica Bay. The beach is more than just sand as waves, wind, and plants play strong roles in the shape or profile of a beach. In the surf zone waves are moving the sand back and forth. Larger currents transport the sand in Santa Monica Bay towards the east and south. The large-scale movement of this sediment, often defined as a littoral cell, starts near Point Dume, and then ends when the sand enters the Redondo Submarine Canyon.

During the summer months, the ocean is often calmer than in the winter. In the summer sand is pushed back onto the beaches, generally causing them to widen. In the winter the larger, more frequent waves lead to erosion. The eroded sand is often deposited near the beach, outside the waves, or on sandbars. As a result, the surf zone is almost always changing, scientists use the term dynamic. The further back from the water the beach becomes more stable and less dynamic.

In these more stable environments, sand is blown by the wind and captured by plants, and beach wrack, (kelp, and plant material washed up on the beach). In natural systems this material builds up and traps more sand, the start of sand dunes. Plants adapted to the salty water they receive in these environments become the foundation of a vegetated coastal strand. A little further back from the water, a more diverse group of plants can form low foredunes and back dunes. The branches and roots of these plants can hold the sand in place and reduce erosion while providing good habitat for resident and migrating wildlife.

An estimated 70 million people visit the beaches of Santa Monica Bay annually. Current infrastructure and maintenance practices support a visitor experience. The profound human presence often diminishes the habitat, leaving little space for plants, migrating birds, and other wildlife. Contemporary approaches to coastal infrastructure and maintenance allow for greater beach integrity with benefits to people and wildlife alike.

Climate change results in sea level rise, more frequently intense storms, drought, and warmer weather. These stressors are likely to cause more profound erosion, coastal flooding, and damage to shoreline infrastructure. Angelenos have long used these beaches for recreation and as refuge from inland heat, and beach visitors are the foundation of our coastal economy. The need for Angelenos to get relief from heat is expected to increase in the coming decades, while our beaches are expected to decrease in size. Smart management will be necessary to sustain the beaches and the needs of our community.


Habitat Extent
Habitat ExtentNot Scored
Not Scored
Habitat Vulnerability
Habitat VulnerabilityLow, Low
Low, Low
Structure & Ecological Disturbance
Structure & Ecological DisturbanceLow, Low
Low, Low
Biological Response
Biological ResponseModerate, Moderate
Moderate, Moderate

Per the Sandy Shores habitat's 2015 condition, see below for condition details.

Why Are Healthy Sandy Shores Important?

Beaches help protect the coastline from the effects of storms and climate change and provide habitat to endangered species, while offering people innumerable economic and recreational benefits. Our sandy shores are critical to our future.

Ecological Functions

Sandy shores are complex, highly dynamic, open-coast ecosystems that link marine and terrestrial ecosystems and provide important ecological functions, including increased coastal resilience, water filtration, and nursery habitat for many different species of plants, fishes, reptiles, and birds.


Diverse Ecosystems and Species Habitat

Coastal strands and intertidal beaches are crucial habitats for a wide range of species including shorebirds, sea lions, and harbor seals. Native vegetation is prevalent on sandy beaches and dunes. Sandy beaches serve as nesting sites for two federally listed birds, the California Least Tern and the Western Snowy Plover. Sand dunes are home to rare species of plants and animals such as Seacliff Buckwheat, El Segundo Blue Butterflies, and Silvery Legless Lizards.

Economic and Recreational Benefits

Enjoyed by over 70 million people annually, the beaches on Santa Monica Bay are a highly valued and visited coastal habitat. Highly prized for their multiple uses and their substantial contributions to California’s economy, beaches support spiritual, cultural, athletic, and social events. They are vital open spaces for relaxation and recreation. Beach access is legally protected in California.

lax-dunes - LAX-DUNES-good-photo

Primary Challenges

Human Activities

Human Activities

As Los Angeles urbanized, over the past one hundred years, much of the natural sediment that would have benefitted the coast was cut off. Other efforts, from the 1920’s to the 1970’s, moved millions of cubic meters of sand to widen certain beaches. Long reaches of the coast are backed by seawalls, which protect private and public infrastructure, often at the expense of the beach in front of them. Human visitorship to the beaches, the Bay’s sandy shores, is tremendous, with estimates of 70 million individual visits annually. Beach grooming, sanitation, and first responders use vehicles and other heavy equipment to maintain these beaches and protect public infrastructure. These activities regularly lead to flattened beaches with little habitat for wildlife. More contemporary approaches to coastal management strike a balance, recognizing the needs of human recreation, wildlife, and physically robust beaches.

Climate Change

Climate Change

Climate change will cause further sea level rise, from the thermal expansion of the water and the melting of glaciers, ice caps, and other land-based ice. Increased frequency of higher energy storms and wave events will progress as climate change advances. More frequent larger waves will contribute to the erosion of beaches and lead to coastal flooding and impact coastal infrastructure. Recent scientific models predict that by 2100, some beaches in Santa Monica Bay may be completely gone. Approaches to increase the height and profile of beaches by establishing coastal dunes is one method to create habitat and protect a beach and neighboring infrastructure from erosion. Other methods of coastal engineering use a combination of natural and industrial materials to protect a coastline.

Habitat Condition 2015
Research Indicators

2015 Habitat Condition

Read more about the sandy shores habitat conditions through our data and research published in the 2015 State of the Bay Report


Taking Action

Learn more about the work being done by SMBNEP partners and The Bay Foundation to protect and improve the Bay’s Sandy Shores habitats.


santa-monica-beach-restoration-pilot-project - beach-habitat

Santa Monica Beach Restoration Pilot Projectright arrow

malibu-living-shoreline-project - DSC01444

Malibu Living Shoreline Projectright arrow

Los Angeles Living Shoreline Projectright arrow

manhattan-beach-dune-restoration-project - DSC02530

Manhattan Beach Dune Restoration Projectright arrow

lax-dunes - HEADER_IMG_2665

LAX Dunesright arrow

© 2024. All Rights Reserved.

Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission is a non-regulatory, locally based state entity that serves as the Management Conference for SMBNEP.


The Bay Foundation (TBF) is an independent, non-profit 501(c)(3) whose missions is to restore and enhance Santa Monica Bay through actions and partnerships that improve water quality, conserve and rehabilitate natural resources, and protect the Bay’s benefits and values. TBF serves as Host Entity for SMBNEP.