Posts Tagged 'sand dune restoration'

Thoughtful Thursday: Restoring Virginia’s Sand Dunes


Summer is fast approaching and soon many of us will be making regular trips to our favorite beaches along the Atlantic coast. Once you’ve made it to that special place where the water meets the sand, you are bound encounter the same warning sign, “Stay off the Dunes.” Have you ever wondered why we are asked to tread lightly on those seemingly ever-shifting dunes?

A healthy dune system is important for ecological and physical reasons. Sand dune vegetation is uniquely adapted to thrive in stressful conditions such as extreme heat, salt spray, drought, limited nutrients and shifting sands. This vegetation provides habitat, including nesting sites, to birds, small mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects. Dunes also provide a physical barrier to the harsh conditions of the sea and act as a reservoir for beach nourishment.

virginia sand dune

Sand dunes protect coastal areas from high winds, salt spray, storms, flooding and erosion due to wave and wind energy. Along the mid-Atlantic seaboard, wave and wind action cause these dunes to shift over time – a natural phenomenon. In many areas, human development over the past century has upset the balance of this natural system and the coastal dune system has degraded over the years.

Development has also made it necessary to minimize the natural migration of shifting systems in order to maintain the built infrastructure. Mankind is only now beginning to find ways to work with nature so that the dunes are preserved and development is better planned to reduce adverse impacts to this habitat.

Naval Air Station Oceana (NASO) – Dam Neck Annex maintains nearly 1,100 acres of land, including four miles of beachfront property on Virginia’s Atlantic coast. The base’s coastal habitat communities contain primary sand dune structures, and marshes. Many of the dunes at the base are degraded or require stabilization. In their present condition, they are eroding along the trailing edge resulting in lost habitat with the potential to hinder base operations.

It is a long-term objective to stabilize these dunes by planting native grasses and installing dune fencing so a protective barrier can be maintained while ensuring the mission of the naval base is not compromised. Working with community volunteers to plant these grasses provides an opportunity to educate local citizens about the importance of dune communities as coastal habitat and provide them with a hands-on opportunity for restoration activities.

The National Aquarium has been working with its partners at Command Navy Region Mid-Atlantic, the Naval Facilities Engineering Command Mid-Atlantic, and the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center since 2007 to restore sand dunes on the base. Our most recent project (May 16-17) included engaging more than 60 volunteers in the planting of 15,000 native dune grasses and installing dune fences to help stabilize the shoreline and provide habitat.

We will be returning again in the fall of 2014 to continue the work. If you are interested in joining us, click here!

Laura Bankey

Inspiring Conservation in the Classroom and in the Community

National Aquarium’s mission is to inspire conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures. We incorporate this mission into every aspect of our organization’s work, both inside the building and outside in the community. Here’s a look at some of the many ways we work with the community to conserve:

Local students (from elementary school through college) are involved in a wide variety of programs including our Wetland Nursery and Terrapins in the Classroom programs. Community volunteers assist in cleaning up debris and planting native grasses and trees at several wetland restoration areas.

The Wetland Nursery program involves students potting and caring for wetland plants and trees in wet frame ponds, throughout the school year. A few schools have an extended wet frame pond system linking their ponds to a tank with striped bass.

Students learn valuable planting and resource management skills by building wetland nurseries from scratch!

Students learn valuable planting and resource management skills by building wetland nurseries from scratch!

At the end of the school year, the students travel to sites around the Chesapeake Bay watershed to plant the grasses and trees and release the fish into tributaries. Teachers utilize the plants and fish as teaching tools in lessons as they track their growth and study the model as an example of actual wetland processes.

Our Terrapins in the Classroom program gives hatchling diamond-back terrapins a head start on life in the wild by having students raise them in the classroom. Caring for the terrapins becomes an important part of student life, as one student reflected, “Thank you very much for allowing us to be a major influence in Leo’s life. We have prepared him for the new journey he will embark on.”

A terrapin hatchling

This terrapin hatchling will be released later this year and tracked by the class that took care of it!

Teachers and students track the growth of their terrapin and study the brackish wetland habitats where they are naturally found, linking the impact climate change is having on these areas and the future of these reptiles.

In addition to working closely with students and the local education system, the Aquarium’s conservation department held restoration plantings reaching as far south as Virginia Beach and as close as Baltimore City.

The Masonville Cove shoreline after our summer planting!

The Masonville Cove shoreline after our summer planting!

Along the Patapsco River at Masonville Cove, approximately 100 volunteers came out to plant a half acre with 21,000 native wetland grasses, creating a fringe wetland. This increased the amount of wilderness habitat in the surrounding area, which is largely urban and industrial.

At the nearby Fort McHenry wetland, over 200 species of birds have been counted over the years and they will now benefit from the added habitat in the area. We have been picking up marine debris for over 10 years at this wetland area…it’s one of our most popular volunteer events!

Volunteers out on the beach restoring sand dunes!

Volunteers out on the beach restoring sand dunes!

Sand dunes were restored along the Virginia coastline, as volunteers planted two species of dune grasses along a stretch of coastline at a naval base. During two separate plantings this year, 55,000 grasses were spread over an acre and a half of dunes. Dune fencing was installed to protect the new grasses and give them time to establish a healthy root system, protecting the dunes from eroding or breaching during hurricanes or other strong storms.

Another restoration planting occurred on a naval base just outside of Washington, DC. Almost 46,000 wetland plants and 2,000 trees were planted during separate events along the Potomac River. Since 2008, over 87,000 wetland grasses and trees have been planted at this location!

Conservation Highlights in 2012 by the Numbers:

  • 760 community volunteers
  • 10 acres of wildlife habitat restored
  • 122,597 native grasses and trees planted
  • 21,000 pieces of debris collected and removed
  • 1,642 school children participated in wetland restoration

A Blue View – Importance of Sand Dunes

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

November 6: The Importance of Sand Dunes

Listen to John discuss the importance of preserving and restoring our sand dunes! 

If you regularly visit the beach in the summer, you have surely noticed the sand dunes that line the Maryland and Delaware shore.

We all know what a dune is, but how are they formed, and why are they so important (not only to the health of our coastal habitats, but for the safety and protection of our beachfront communities)? Dunes provide a natural barrier for the ocean and can slow or prevent coastal flooding, provide protection from high winds and damaging storms, and prevent saltwater from reaching inland, threatening farming and ground water supplies.

For these reasons, many coastal communities in the United States have made dune preservation and restoration a priority. The paths and fencing to keep tourists off the dunes are part of these initiatives.

Other, more aggressive restoration projects are underway at shores around the country. The National Aquarium has been particularly involved in dune restoration in Virginia Beach for several years. To learn more about our sand dune restoration efforts and how YOU can get involved, click here.

Thoughtful Thursdays: Virginia Beach Sand Dune Restoration

Earlier this month, our Aquarium Conservation Team (ACT!) headed south to Virginia Beach for our annual sand dune restoration project. Our team, along with an amazing group of volunteers, focused their efforts on the eastern coast near the Naval Air Station Dam Neck Annex.

Virginia Beach

Beautiful day at the beach for a restoration!

Coastal sand dunes are formed by the action of sea and wind. Dunes protect the land by acting as natural barriers to salt water intrusion and sea wind erosion. The sand dune system absorbs energy of the waves and without this protection, the soft coastline would disappear rapidly. Even small disruptions in the dune system can cause salt-water infiltration into the ground water, threatening local farmlands.

Virginia Beach restoration

Although sand dunes may appear to be lifeless, in reality they are home to a multitude of species! Their importance has been acknowledged over the last years and they now are priority habitats for conservation.

Over two days, Aquarium staff partnering with Naval Air Station Dam Neck Annex planted 25,000 native grasses including American Beach Grass and Switch Grass. The Aquarium has partnered with the US Navy for the last 10 years. Big storms like Hurricane Isabel have ravaged the area in recent years, making restoration of this habitat even more of a vital need!

We can’t wait to return to Virginia Beach and continue our dune restoration at NAS Dam Neck Annex. Join us in 2013!

Can’t wait that long? Click here to find out about our upcoming conservation events!

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