Once you read this, you may look at our dunes here at the Jersey Shore differently.

Sand dunes are a big part of the landscape at our beaches. The dunes act as barriers to storms and storm surges. They prevent erosion of beaches, protect beachfront structures, and provide a home for birds, insects, and small mammals like the fox.

Natural dunes are irregular in shape and are created as wind-blown sand is deposited along the back of a beach. As sand piles up, a variety of plants begin to grow. Plants are critical to the success of a dune. Their roots hold the dune in place and the plants trap and hold additional wind-blown sand.

In contrast, man-made dunes are typically designed in a specific pattern and look less wild. They also often lack a variety of plants, at least when they first go up. But with careful design, it is possible to engineer artificial dunes that can provide protection for people and a good habitat for plants and animals.

Beach grass is one of the most important and common plants on a sand dune. It spreads quickly by its specialized roots, called rhizomes, that grow down and sideways through the sand. These rhizomes form a network that holds the entire dune in place. But it is also important to have a variety of plants on a dune.

One of the most common mistakes communities make when undertaking a dune project is to only plant a single species (most often American Beach Grass). Sea Rocket, Seaside Goldenrod, Beach Pea, Beach Plum, Panic Grass, and Salt Meadow Cordgrass are all plants that are well adapted to living in the dunes' harsh beach environment.

Storms and strong winds can damage storm dunes and push them inland. Other that storms, the other major cause of damage to dunes is people. By walking or playing on sand dunes, we damage the beach grass and other plants that hold the dune together.

It takes only a few footsteps to damage the extensive root system of beach grass, and when that happens, the plant can no longer hold sand in place. Over time, the dune and all its benefits will be lost.


The NJ Sea Grant Consortium has put out a comprehensive dune manual to help you if you are interested in caring for and cultivating healthy, protective dune systems. It includes an extensive section on recommended plant varieties to use to create a healthy dune system. They can even provide you with outdoor signs that you can post on the benefits of the dunes and why you shouldn't walk on them.

The manual can be found by CLICKING HERE.