Dune restoration is an important part of beach stewardship because sometimes, even with the best intentions, dunes can become degraded and require a little help to recover. Dune restoration typically involves planting marram grass and installing sand fencing to protect the planting. Marram grass is pretty much a miracle plant. No other species and no engineered structure could ever be more effective at capturing blowing sand because sand burial stimulates marram grass to grow. This means sand can accumulate on top of the marram grass and not only does it stay alive, it grows a network of dense roots (called rhizomes) so the leaves can rise to the surface over and over again! This network of rhizomes will stabilize a sand dune and over time other species can establish and the restoration project will mature into a healthy dune environment.
The benefits of healthy dunes are numerous. First of all, healthy dunes hold sand and sand is pretty much the reason people come to the beach! A foredune (mound of sand closest to the lake usually dominated by marram grass) that is covered in anchoring vegetation will capture blowing sand. But any break in vegetation on the foredune means nothing is capturing all that blowing sand, and wind doesn’t carry sand back to the open beach (although that would be really helpful!), windblown sand is always carried away from the beach landing all over parking lots, roads, sidewalks, as well as private patios and driveways. Exactly where we don’t want to unfold a beach towel! Plus, all that sand then has to be removed by Town and Park staff and all this effort and money could be saved by simply caring for a healthy dune. Healthy dunes keep sand on the beach!
The other obvious benefit for dune restoration in a protected park is habitat! Beaches and dunes provide habitat for more species of birds and insects than any other habitat in the Great Lakes basin. Since well over half of southern Ontario’s major dune ecosystems occur within a provincial park where recreational pressures can be extreme, dune restoration is a very important tool for protecting Ontario’s biodiversity.
Submitted by Karen Alexander, Ontario Parks