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Bringing New Jersey Sand Dunes to Life

A manual and workshops bring sand dune research to New Jersey

By Matthew McGrath, New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium

A new “living” resource for officials, environmentalists and other volunteers who want to restore beach dunes in their community is being maintained by the New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium (NJSGC) and its partners.

The online Dune It Right draft manual was written to explain the topography and ecology of dunes and provides descriptions of available dune plants.

The manual explains the function of each aspect of the beach from the wrack line to the maritime forest, the importance of biodiversity in terms of flora and fauna, and the preferred conditions for endangered species, such as the piping plover.

In New Jersey, intense development along the shore and the heavy use of the beaches by humans has reduced most of the dunes and the ecological services they provide, especially wrack lines, secondary dunes and maritime forests. This has been done to make the beach “clean” and easy to access. State and federal parks and reserves, and a few communities like Avalon in Cape May County are exceptions.

The manual is a collaboration between NJSGC researchers and extension specialists at William Paterson University, Stevens Institute of Technology, Georgian Court University; and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Plant Materials Center at Cape May.

Since Superstorm Sandy pummeled New Jersey’s shore communities, a new emphasis has been placed on the importance of dunes as a measure to protect homes and businesses. Communities with no or little dune protection were decimated by Sandy’s powerful storm surge. Towns protected by dunes fared much better. In response many coastal communities implemented dune projects with little guidance on proper techniques or plantings for their dunes.

In New Jersey, most beaches are managed by small municipalities, private companies and homeowners. There are as many dune-building strategies as there are communities. In Bradley Beach, for example, there is an extensive effort to collect used Christmas trees as a means of helping to create a more natural dune. In Asbury Park, just 1½ miles away, there are no dunes along the main strip of boardwalk.

To educate the diverse number of groups responsible for rebuilding dunes, the NJSGC and its research partners held workshops with support from the National Sea Grant Office in Monmouth, Ocean, Atlantic and Cape May counties this past April. The manual’s authors, who have worked on the annual “State of the Shore” report and researched invasive plant species and commercial plant species in sand dunes. gave short presentations at each workshop. Attendees provided feedback to improve the contents presented in the manual. The workshops were held early this spring, but feedback continues to be sent to researchers.

The consortium continues to fund dune research that will be incorporated into the dune manual, including research on wind and wave action on natural and man-made dunes with and without vegetation.

The Dune It Right manual can be downloaded online.

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