Science and engineering students are gaining practical experience working on a Santa Monica beach pilot project that will restore the local ecosystem and protect the area from sea level rise and erosion.
The project – called the Healthy Beaches project – is a result of the Frank R. Seaver College of Science and Engineering’s partnership with The Bay Foundation, a nonprofit environmental group working to restore Santa Monica Bay and local coastal waters, housed on the Loyola Marymount University campus.
“Through our collaboration, we want to bring a real-world application aspect to students’ coursework, and provide them with hands-on field work and lab experience,” said Karina Johnston, the foundation’s director of watershed programs who also teaches environmental science courses.
The goal of the Healthy Beaches project is to bring back the coastal plant and wildlife community to the area, while also assessing how this project could provide protection from rising sea levels brought on by climate change.
Karina Alvarez, a senior majoring in environmental science, conducted field work by planting seedlings to prevent erosion and building strategic sand dunes to restore the natural habitat.
“It feels good when you get something right out in the field,” said Alvarez. “It’s more rewarding than getting it right in the classroom.”
Engineering students have also helped on the project. “Their goal is to help identify suitable locations to expand or replicate the beach restoration project in other Los Angeles areas,” explained Johnston.
“We started with research. We then formulated a plan to determine sites where we could expand the pilot project, and executed that plan,” said Elizabeth Horejsi, a civil engineering junior. “The results have a real impact, instead of just being a hypothetical problem.”
Alvarez hopes the foundation’s field work will help, not only to restore the beaches, but also to educate the community.
“The coastal systems are so important for clean water, biodiversity, education, even just for aesthetics,” said Alvarez. “While the foundation is doing a lot, there’s still a lot more work to do.”
The Healthy Beaches project is just one of many Bay Foundation projects that involve Seaver students.
As a part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Estuary Program, the foundation has ongoing projects up and down the Los Angeles coastline related to habitat restoration and water quality that help transform and improve the environment.