Coastal dunes are a feature of many New Zealand beaches and provide natural protection from coastal erosion and flooding. As we start to feel the effect of climate change, this becomes even more important.
Dunes don’t stop erosion, particularly during storms. But they act as a buffer, and if covered in appropriate sand trapping vegetation, particularly the native sand binding grasses spinifex and pingao, they repair themselves.
Unfortunately, a lot of our coastal dunes have become eroded. Some to the point of being replaced by expensive and inadequate seawalls. Restoring the natural dune habitat, is more effective, more sustainable and has added benefits of protecting the shorebirds, and other wildlife that make their home there.
It is the perfect nature-based solution – addressing biodiversity loss and climate change, while also improving the amenity or human value of the landscape.
Which is why through the WWF-New Zealand Community Conservation and Education Fund we are supporting the Pāuanui Dune Protection Society. A group of volunteers working to re-establish a natural dune at Pāuanui Beach on the Coromandel.
Last May, more than 200 volunteers planted over 15,000 native dune grasses across a length of shoreline at the southern end of Pāuanui beach. In early 2023 the beach was hammered by both Cyclone Hale and Cyclone Gabrielle. And yet, only 10% of the plants were lost even though there was serious erosion at other parts of the beach.
Just a few months later, the dunes are already rebuilding themselves. The plants, especially the Spinifex are doing what they are supposed to do, growing down the dune face to trap windblown sand.
A further area of dunes was planted in May and throughout the year weed spraying and other maintenance of previously planted areas is being undertaken. The Society also collect seed for new planting and educate the community about the importance of protecting a natural dune.
In March 2023, the project won the national Coastal Restoration Award for 2023 for “the outstanding coastal restoration project”. Our congratulations to the Society.