Turning the Tide

Protecting the dunes

Thu, 05/09/2019 - 9:45pm

As we head into a bustling summer season, it is important to keep our coastal structures in mind — specifically the sand dunes.

Sand dunes, or beach grass (Ammophila breviligulata), are mounds of sand formed by the wind and ocean, providing habitats and protection for plant and animal species. Grown in unpredictable marine environments (high wind speeds and changing tides), sand dunes have adapted to constant sand burials. They are natural barriers from environmental factors, protecting coastal communities from storms and beach erosion. Being a natural barrier, they absorb the impact of environmental conditions, preventing or limiting the effects of flooding and inland damage.

It is crucial we respect these natural barriers by following the constructed paths and crossovers, to avoid stepping on and destroying the dunes and their benefits to the island. While sand dunes are resistant to strong winds, heat and water levels, they have little to no chance of survival against humans or vehicles; the plants’ stalk can easily be snapped when trampled or driven upon. From the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council, “[a]ny areas where beach grass has been altered or destroyed, un-stabilized sand is exposed to erosion by winds and waves and the integrity of the barrier beach as a storm buffer is compromised. The consequences of such alterations and destruction include increased inland flooding and wave damage during storms, disruption of salt ponds and wetland environments and/or acceleration of the natural shoreward migration of the barrier beach.” The construction of a sand dune system is not a simple and quick activity; the Town of New Shoreham, The Nature Conservancy and the Block Island School have contributed infinite and voluntary time in planting beach grass.

There are various strategies for preserving and protecting the dunes, in order to help prevent future damages and precautions. Here are a few examples: volunteering in planting beach grass, following the local and community crossovers (stairs, paths and signs), being mindful of throwing away debris and plastic, and reminding others about the importance of sand dunes. Sand dunes are indispensable systems for our coastal community, offering inexpensive protection against rolling waves and storms.

To learn more about protecting our sand dunes and how to help, head over to The Nature Conservancy and Block Island Conservancy.