Better Bluffs Bring Back Blue Butterflies

By Christian Paullin, Environmental Journalist

The Esplanade bluff, the hilly barrier between the beach and Esplanade in Redondo Beach, was covered in a South African ice plant (Carpobrotus edulis). Redondo Beach resident Ann Dalkey, a marine biologist, noticed the non-native plant on her daily bike ride to work. 

Initially, Dalkey did not know that this invasive species took away important native habitats from the endangered El Segundo Blue Butterfly, notably by outgrowing its host plant, the seacliff buckwheat (Eriogonum parvifolium). After years of riding past it, she decided to take action and began reaching out to various contacts she had in the biology and conservation world.

In the early 2000s, Dalkey connected with Travis Longcore, an environmental scientist, researcher, and professor. Together they founded the Beach Bluff Restoration Project (BBRP) and created the BBRP Master Plan. The plan outlines why the bluffs need to be restored, where restoration should occur, removal of the non-native ice plant, what types of plants needed to be planted, how and where to plant them, the importance of the plants, how the restoration will help not only native animal life like restoring El Segundo and Palos Verdes Blue Butterfly habitat but also fight against erosion and runoff, and so much more. The 74-page plan became the framework of how this project would be undertaken and was the guiding force in starting this important environmental restoration work. 

Dalkey also contacted Carolyn Lieberman, a Coastal Program Coordinator for the Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office, who works on restoring native coastal ecosystems. Together they landed funding through the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the restoration of the Bluffs began. The ice plant was removed and native plants that specifically cater to the needs of the blue butterfly replaced it. These included the seacliff buckwheat (Eriogonum parvifolium), the beach sand verbena (Abronia umbellatum), California sagebrush (Artemisia californica), California sunflower (Encelia californica) and others from the approved list of suitable plants.

The LACC, an inner-city environmentally focused youth development non-profit, played a vital role in executing the restoration by providing project managers, leads, and workers who removed the invasive plants and replaced them with native plants. The LACC is the largest conservation corporation in the nation, providing work for over 250 active members, particularly at-risk youths between the ages of 18-26. Many of the LACC Corps members lived within a few miles of Redondo Beach yet had never even seen the beach or ocean before this job. Working in environmental conservation exposed them to the outdoors, provided new experiences, educated them on the importance of conservation, and built career opportunities they never knew existed before.

Despite years of restoration work by the LACC, there was no sign of the endangered butterfly. The scientific community theorized there had been too much disruption to the environment. The butterflies were finally spotted by some corps members in 2007; a team of scientists from USC confirmed it was really a blue butterfly and went out to count the population, finding over 200 endangered butterflies present at the bluff. 
A few years later the SEA Lab closed and funding dried up, ultimately halting restoration despite invasive plants continuing to grow. However, in the last two years, the South Bay Parkland Conservancy (SBPC) took the lead. Partnering with the Department of Fish and Wildlife to continue the restoration, they landed a $79,000 grant approved by the USFWS. The SBPC will oversee 6.9 acres of restoration.

The SBPC aims to bring volunteers in so the local community has the opportunity to help restore our bluffs. Contributions include providing host plants to our endangered butterflies, protecting against erosion, implementing natural filters for rain run-off, and creating a wildlife corridor for the butterflies and other biodiversity.

As of July 2022, the SBPC is responsible for 2064 plants in the ground, 1291 volunteer hours, 661 different volunteers, and hosted 58 different events, in 2022 alone! Now it is your turn to support!

The SBPC is always looking for additional volunteers to help continue the restoration of the Esplanade bluff. Volunteering is one easy click away, SBPC Volunteer Sign Up. Events are held almost always on Saturdays. There are time slots available between 9:00 AM – 11:00 AM and 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM. Come down and support our local environment! I know I will be!

How to help:

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