The Ventura County Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation in California, USA decided against traditional coastal defence measures to reduce beach erosion at a popular beach spot called Surfer’s Point. Along with other stakeholders, the County instead designed a two-phase plan to strategically relocate a parking lot, pedestrian path, and bike path away from erosion zones.

General description

Surfer’s Point is a popular beach and surfing location in the City of Ventura, USA which has suffered from coastal erosion for decades. Since the 1980’s, concern has grown amongst tourists and local residents over the eroding shoreline which has threatened a main bike path and parking lot.

The project involved the relocation of the bike path and parking lot approximately 60 feet inland, completely removing rip-rap (shoreline rock amour), undertaking natural beach restoration and beach nourishment, and potentially later inland waterway work to restore natural sediment supply. The project cost is estimated at approximately $3.8 million (USD).

The City of Ventura had taken the traditional approach to coastal protection in the 1980’s and 1990’s. This “shoreline hardening” had the effect of causing increased erosion both onsite and elsewhere along the coast. By 1995, the California Coastal Commission stepped in to prevent further shoreline hardening, and plans were in place by 2001 to address erosion risk through managed retreat.

The project is a partnership of the City of Ventura, the Ventura County Fairgrounds, the California Coastal Conservancy, California State Parks, the California Coastal Commission and the Surfrider Foundation. Project leaders have identified the importance of good communication and participation of all players in the planning process to ensure successful project execution.

Ecosystem-based aspects

During the first phase of the project, in addition to the relocation and removal of grey infrastructure, volunteers planted native vegetation on sand dunes and around bioswales. Increased vegetation cover provides slope stability so the dunes and bioswales can in turn protect the beach and ocean from intense storm water runoff while protecting the new grey infrastructure from wave action.

The project was specifically intended to address all natural and human factors that exist at Surfer’s Point, including the sand, stones, wind, vegetation, and human activities and infrastructure. By doing so, the functionality of the beach can be improved for those communities and people who use it while strengthening the resilience of the natural environment to erosion and threats such as storms and sea level rise.

Key lessons learnt

Surfer’s Point has remained stable, functional, and aesthetically pleasing since the implementation of the first phase of the project and as a result of ongoing efforts. While much of the City of Ventura Promenade suffered damage from erosion during the winter of 2015, the beach at Surfer’s Point did not experience the same level of damage.

While managed retreat, involving relocation and removal of exposed elements, is not the most popular shoreline management technique, it can sometimes be the most economically and environmentally appropriate. In the case of Surfer’s Point, the failure of historical strategies and the notable effectiveness of relocating and removing at-risk infrastructure both illustrate this clearly.

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