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Why are Dunes Important?

Coastal dunes form the first line of protection for the communities behind them (e.g. uplands and wetlands such as interdunal swales and bayside tidal marshes), by reducing the energy of storm waves. Dunes play a vital role in protecting coastal areas from erosion, coastal flooding and storm damage, as well as sheltering properties and ecosystems behind them from wind and sea spray and protecting the tidal wetlands on the bayside of barrier islands.  During Hurricane Sandy, communities protected by larger, more well established (vegetated) dunes suffered much less damage than did those lacking this important defense.

Dunes also provide an important sand reservoir for the beaches themselves (Bureau of Land and Water Quality, ME 2005). Dune vegetation traps wind-blown sand, preventing it from being blown inland where it can form a problem for homeowners and coastal infrastructure (roads, drainage etc.), while helping build the dunes themselves.

Dunes provide vital habitat for specially adapted plants and animals, several species of which are currently listed as nationally or locally threatened or endangered (e.g. seabeach amaranth (Amaranthus pumilus) and piping plover (Charadrius melodus)) and act as a filter for rain and groundwater.

In a recent economic analysis of different ecosystems (Costanza et al. 2006), dunes and coastal beaches were found to be, by far, the most valuable ecosystem in New Jersey on a per-acre basis

To learn more about dunes and their roles in the environment, seek out a copy of Psuty, Norbert P. and Rohr, Erica. September 2000. Coastal Dunes: A Primer for Dune Management with Models of Dune Response to Storm Frequencies. Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, Rutgers The State University of New Jersey. 40 pages.  A free version of the booklet (minus the graphics and with some formatting glitches) is available at


Content for these pages was contributed by Chris Miller, Jon Miller, Michael Peek, Ray Bukowski, and Louise Wootton.  Edited by Louise Wootton.