December 10, 2016

Conserve and protect California’s coast!–Join the new California Coast Resilient Habitats Campaign

Capitola Beach eroded away by king-tides event in February. Is this a glimpse of sea-level rise? Photo by Susan Hillyard, 2011.

Capitola Beach eroded away by king-tides event in February. Is this a glimpse of sea-level rise? Photo by Susan Hillyard, 2011.

Update: (Sep. 24, 2013): starting Oct. 4, the new organizer for the California Coast Campaign will be Michael Thornton (see contact information below).

Of all habitats, shorelines are among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. As sea levels rise–they are already doing so (see for maps)–low-lying lands are submerged or turned brackish, bluffs are eroded, and coastal development is threatened and destroyed. These effects are already happening, and even if human greenhouse-gas emissions were stopped tomorrow, we’d be facing these problems for decades. We must find ways to adapt to this inevitability.

That’s why Sierra Club California has launched the California Coast Resilient Habitats Campaign (see also article on Sierra Nevada Resilient Habitats Campaign). The campaign will focus on protecting, connecting, and restoring California’s coastal habitats to allow our wildlife (and humans too) to adapt to their changing conditions.

Our initial focus will be to foster the best state planning and development policies through the Ocean Protection Council, California Coastal Commission, and Bay Conservation and Development Commission. These policies will influence state activities and work their way down to the local level, where most land use decisions are made. In local communities, we will educate people on how to protect shorelines using natural systems that protect and expand habitat. The campaign will focus on communities that are ripe for positive shoreline protection policies.

When the sea threatens property, the first response is often to build a seawall. Seawalls, though, are expensive to build and maintain, and are destructive to habitats and beaches. The Pacific Institute estimates that it would cost $14 billion to armor California’s coast against sea-level rise and $1.4 billion annually for maintenance. Further, seawalls cause the loss of beaches in front of and below the wall, limit beach access, and do not support half the biological diversity of rocky areas.

We have better options. We can stop placing people and businesses in harm’s way by not allowing development in projected inundation zones and flood plains. We can lessen beach erosion through building natural habitats such as kelp forests and oyster beds, which act as wave breaks. We can protect shorelines by stabilizing dunes and establishing vegetation barriers. We can allow for the expansion of wetlands, valuable in their own right for their natural diversity, and also as flood buffers. And we can make choices to concede to nature and plan retreat from the shore, often the most cost-effective and safest option.

As the campaign is able to raise funds and grow, we intend to expand into protecting key conservation areas (marine sanctuaries, wildlife corridors, wetlands), updating the state Wildlife Action Plan, and protecting upland watersheds to encompass concerns such as water quality, inflow, and fish barriers.


If you want to pitch in to help protect our coast, we have a role for you. For example, we will be producing a video about the campaign. Would you like to present it in your community–at Sierra Club meetings, in classrooms, at Board and Council meetings, at Planning Commission meetings, at service-club meetings, and anywhere the community is ready to learn.

Other volunteer roles include:

* researching natural shoreline-protection alternatives and translating the research into easy-to-understand fact sheets for the public;

* speaking before state agencies about shoreline-protection policy (you don’t need to already know how; this can be a great learning opportunity);

* writing articles, letters to the editor, and opinion pieces;

* seeking out opportunities to table on shoreline protection at local events such as fairs and farmers’ markets; we’ll teach you about the issues and provide materials.

Volunteers with advanced graphic skills (and software) would be highly valued.

There is a job for any interested volunteer. To get involved, contact Michael Thornton at or (916)557-1106 (starting Oct. 4, 2013).

Lesli Daniel, California Coast Resilient Habitats campaign organizer

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