Sand dunes in San Diego are extremely rare.

Coastal Dune Habitat Restoration in San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve

There are few places in Southern California where one can see coastal dunes. They're all but gone, yet important avian, reptile, and plant species rely on these vanishing areas. Coastal dune restoration protects and enhances the biodiversity of the only existing coastal dune habitat, comprised of four acres, in San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve.

Protection for threatened and endangered species
The project will optimize an ecosystem that already supports native species, including threatened and endangered species, such as:

California Least Tern (Sterna antillarum browni)
(Photo: C. Mayne)



Western Snowy Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)




These birds have historically used the lagoon for breeding. From a regional perspective, dune restoration will provide productive nesting sites and restored habitat that is now all but non-existent, and one of the most disturbed, in Southern California.

The site in the West Basin lies between the Santa Fe railroad to the east and the Pacific Coast Highway to the west. This parcel was added to the Reserve in 1989 by California Department of Fish and Wildlife.  It is the home of typical native dune plants such as:

 Beach sand verbena (Abronia umbellata)



Beach evening primrose (Camissonia cherianthifolia ssp. suffructicosa)



Coast woolly head (Nemacaulis denudata var. denudata)



The dunes area also hosts the:

San Diego horned lizard (Phrynosoma coronatum blainvillei)




Silvery legless lizard (Anniella pulchra pulchra)



The major elements of this restoration project include:

  • Removal and control of invasive plant species, such as ice plant and statice, and rehabilitation of areas previously treated
  • Selective removal and control of a stand of desert arrowweed (Pluchea sericea) to create enhanced nesting and foraging habitat for the California Least Tern, Western Snowy Plover, Forster’s Tern, and other shore birds
  • Installation of fencing to discourage foot traffic and eliminate vehicular traffic
  • Vegetation and avifauna monitoring to control invasive species, optimize biodiversity, and to document active nesting and roosting of resident and migrant bird species
  • Signage that informs and educates the public of restoration goals and inclusion in Conservancy education programs that highlight the complexity of dune systems and their unique plant and animal communities
  • Regular trash and debris removal

The dunes are immediately adjacent to mud flats and open water in the West Basin. Its immediate environs continue to support roosting and feeding birds. Because there is substantial gain from improved access to other West Basin resources (estuarine and open water habitat), the project is complementary to current restoration efforts in San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve that will re-establish natural tidal influence to the West basin and the rest of the lagoon. 



Invasive Plants
Tidal Circulation
Scientific Monitoring
San Elijo Lagoon Restoration 

Bradley Nussbaum, Habitat Management Director
bradley [at] sanelijo [dot] org
(760) 436-3944 x 700

  Ridgway's Clapper Rail (Photo: H. Knufken)