A Happy Dune is a Healthy Dune #happydunes

Beachgrass / Photo by Tracy Finn

Beachgrass / Photo by Tracy Finn

As an island on the Atlantic coast, Block Island is subjected to a plethora of storms and weather patterns (in addition to a significant seasonal tourist population), which takes a heavy toll on the island's already delicate ecosystem.  The dunes are one of the only lines of defense that help limit this impact and protect the island's shores and interior.

Though perhaps fun to climb, human impact on a dune has an exponentially greater impact on the rest of the environment and quickly contributes to weakening the island's natural defenses.  We believe in "happy dunes."  A happy dune is a dune that can do its job to protect the shoreline and land interior, with the aid and support of beachgrasses and fences, and free from the physical impact of human activity.


  • Dunes provide a physical buffer between the sea and inland areas, helping to protect homes and properties from the damaging effects of waves, wind, storm surges, and flooding.

  • In addition, as waves hit the dune, its sediments move and shift—a process that absorbs wave energy and protects landward areas from the full brunt of the storm. The size of the dune (the height, length, and width) determines the level of protection provided.

  • Dunes are also sand sinks, storing sediments that shift to coastal beaches and nearshore areas when the dunes are eroded during storms. As long as the sand stays in this beach/dune/nearshore system, it continues to protect inland areas and is available to build dunes and beaches in the future.



  • MAKING YOUR MARK IS OVERRATED: By walking, biking or driving in a dune area, we promote significant erosion to occur. Human impact is very precise and concentrated, while wind and water is more spread out and has greater surface area, thus making them easier to combat with beachgrasses.


dune fence

dune fence

  • ROOT ANCHORS: Whether you bolster an existing dune or build a dune from scratch, the best way to get started is to plant beachgrass. The dense root system (which runs deep and anchors the plant in place) and the fast-growing rhizomes (which spread beneath the sand and sprout many new plants) allow for quick establishment. 

  • SAND CATCHERS: And once established, beachgrass literally catches sand—the leaves slow the speed of wind, allowing wind-blown sand to be deposited—and this accumulation helps build up the dune. What's more, the plants thrive on being covered in sand and respond by sending out new shoots and rhizomes to continue the dune-building process.

  • NO MORE EROSION: The leaves of the beachgrass also help to stabilize the dune by sheltering underlying sand from wind and rain, while the root systems help bind the sediments.

  • CREATES WILDLIFE HABITAT: Once beachgrass is established and a dune becomes more stable, other plants are able to gain a foothold, thereby creating greater diversity for wildlife habitat and reducing the potential for a loss of all vegetation to disease or pests.


  • INSTALL FENCES: Dune fencing made of wood and biodegradable burlap-like fabric (not traditional wood and wire fencing that becomes dangerous when it falls apart leaving sharp sticks and scraps of metal throughout the path/dune)

  • OUT WITH THE OLD: Remove the dangerous and degrading wood and wire fencing that exists, and replace with alternative biodegradable fencing and/or beach grass.


  • ConserFest, Block Island Nature Conservancy and the Block Island School partner to restore, replenish and protect the dunes along the island shoreline.

Corn Neck Rd. & Solviken Beach Dunes / Photo by Lesley A. Ulrich

Corn Neck Rd. & Solviken Beach Dunes / Photo by Lesley A. Ulrich


  • JOIN OUR HAPPY DUNES CHALLENGE: We started the 10-for-1o challenge campaign in 2017, in honor of our 10th anniversary.  After the success of raising enough money to support the purchase of 10,000 new beach grass plants, we have decided to keep a good thing going.  Please click below to learn more and to join us in our effort to support shore restoration on Block Island and beyond!

  • GETS THE WORD OUT!: Raise awareness of the issue with the visiting masses to educate, empower, while helping to minimize impact on the dunes and beachgrasses

  • RAISE $: Raise funds to support the Town of New Shoreham in purchasing supplies and beachgrass plants

  • STEWARDSHIP PROGRAMS: Make supplies more readily available to support local student environmental stewardship efforts and programs.

*Thanks to contributions from Block Island's own, Kim Gaffett.  Excerpts regarding dunes and beachgrasses from Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs.  To read more of this article and for more information, please visit the MA Energy and Environmental Affairs website.