Tiny Alameda Beach to Get Funds to Restore Rare Bay Area Sand Dunes

A little more than a quarter-acre of dunes stretches across the shoreline at Encinal Beach. (Joe Sullivan/East Bay Regional Park District)

This is part of our ongoing series about where taxpayer funds from 2016's Measure AA to restore the San Francisco Bay are going. Find all the stories here.

In the city of Alameda, there’s a beach so small you might miss it. In fact, I did when I first tried to find it. All 2 acres of it.

“It's a hidden gem but the locals know it very well,” says Joe Sullivan, program manager for the Encinal Dune Restoration and Shoreline Stabilization Project. “It's a popular fishing spot. And it's also a really popular beach for non-motorized boats.”

Encinal Beach is on the former naval weapons station at Alameda Point. Sullivan says that, back in the day, the Navy built a structure called a breakwater to protect its base from the bay, and in a happy accident, the breakwater created a small beach.

Over the years, this beach formed sand dunes. Sullivan says dunes like these have largely disappeared from the Bay Area because of urbanization.

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“There aren’t many little dune areas in the Bay and this is one that happened to be created here,” Sullivan says. “It is obviously a result of human activity, but it's unique.”

This beach is popular with fishermen and kayakers, despite the bay debris that litters the shore. (Joe Sullivan/East Bay Regional Park District)

Thanks to Measure AA, $450,000 will go toward restoring these rare dunes, which are now overrun with invasive ice plants. Sullivan says these plants may look nice, but it doesn’t allow any other vegetation to grow in the area.

“It's good at what it does, which means you get this monoculture of one invasive species,” Sullivan says. “It doesn't provide any beneficial habitat to any wildlife at all.”

Once the dunes are re-established with native plants, the area will be prime habitat for several threatened bird species like the snowy plover, the California least tern and the red knot.

This "diamond in the rough," as Sullivan calls it, will also get a much needed face-lift. Some aged chain-link fencing, an old rusty barge and general debris — like washed-up creosote logs — will be removed.

And overall access to the beach park will be improved, too, with a new parking lot, an upgraded boat launch platform, signage (no more getting lost trying to find it!) and restrooms.