Updated: 27 September 2012
Research Reveals That Wrack Rescues Rather Than Ruins Fragile Beach Ecosystems
Source: Suzanne Guldimann, Malibu Surfside News
Beach ecology was in the spotlight at a special seminar at Malibu City Hall last week.
"A lot of people don't think about beaches as ecosystems," Karen Martin, professor of biology at Pepperdine University, told the audience. "The traditional way to think about beaches is as playgrounds and hazards. We want to start thinking about them as ecosystems."
Martin, who 10 years ago developed the successful "Grunion Greeter" program to promote awareness and gather data on the small California fish that spawns on local beaches during spring and summer high tides, is currently involved with the non profit Beach Ecology Coalition and focused on the importance of natural, undisturbed kelp wrack in maintaining a healthy and vibrant ecosystem on Southland beaches.
"All over the world [people are] concerned about what's happening on beaches," Martin said. [Beaches are] wildlife habitat. She quoted journalist John Balzar, who wrote, "Where the sand turns wet, the greatest wilderness on the planet begins."
"There are beach wildflowers-native plants not really seen except on beaches, nowhere else in world," Martin said, adding that beaches are also nurseries for many animals, ranging from marine mammals like sea lions, to grunion, a wide variety of invertebrates, and endangered bird species, including the least tern.
"There are also reptiles-the silver sand lizard, sea turtles. We're starting to get sea turtles more and more in Malibu, visiting, not breeding, but resting on shore. [It's] critical habitat necessary for animals to complete their life cycle."
Martin explained that mechanized beach maintenance, using heavy equipment to rake the beach and remove kelp, can transform key habitat into a wasteland.
"On a completely groomed beach there are no grunion eggs left." Martin described the look as a "Zen garden."
"When you groom like that, yes, you may have nice clean beach but you lose something that can't be replaced," she said.
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