On May 27th, 2021, Dune Doctors and Indigo Condominiums hosted a Planting for Protection event in Perdido Beach, Florida. Over fifty coastal stewards of all ages participated in the installation of dune-stabilizing, native vegetation. Planting for Protection is Dune Doctors’ educational initiative and is designed to educate children and the general public in the importance of coastal resiliency. Working with local schools, organizations, and communities to conduct these unique, hands-on experiences in the dune ecosystem, Dune Doctors encourages participants to develop a personal stake in the environment and a sense of ownership over the dune’s well-being. Dune Doctors’ CEO Frederique Beroset commented, “After a child has planted a sea oat on a dune and understands how the plant helps protect against erosion, they are significantly less likely to walk through the fragile ecosystem and are empowered to educate others.” A total of 180 plants were installed by the participants in one hour.
Article Highlight: SeaChase Condominiums in Orange Beach, Alabama, emerged with 90% of their dune intact due to the combined efforts of beach renourishment and consistent dune maintenance.
Key Takeaway: To maximize the potential return of beach renourishment, communities must install and maintain native vegetation to stabilize their sand placements and strengthen their protective dunes.
Fast Application: Sea oat growing season overlaps with hurricane season. The best time to naturally fortify and stabilize sand placements and existing dunes is during the summer. Strengthen the integrity of your protective dune by having our team stabilize bare areas with new vegetation, remove debris, remove dead plant material, and fertilize the existing vegetation.
How did One Community’s Dune Emerge 90% Intact after Hurricane Sally?
SeaShase Condominiums, located in Orange Beach, Alabama, took the direct hit of two massive hurricanes: Ivan in 2004 and Sally in 2020. Falling on the exact same day but 16 years apart, both hurricanes caused extensive structural damage to SeaChase Condominiums’ buildings, but the impact levels were different for the coastal ecosystem. While Hurricane Ivan completely eroded the original dune, Hurricane Sally only damaged 10% of their naturally-fortified dune, a system maintained by Dune Doctors. This enormous contrast in damage levels can be attributed primarily to the difference in the beach’s width and the shape of their protective dune after sustained restoration efforts. Hurricane Sally’s storm surge had a significantly more expansive beach to run across before reaching their healthy, established dune system. The width of the beach slowed down the surge while the dune’s gentle incline and strong core blocked it from moving inland. The result was zero surge-based flooding damage to the building and a dune system that was 90% intact.
Swipe through Before-and-After Pictures of Hurricane Sally Damage Restoration
What are the Benefits of Implementing a Maintenance Program for your Protective Dune System?
To follow in the successful footsteps of SeaChase Condominiums, implement a dune maintenance program to stabilize and optimize your sand placements and existing dune. A thriving, manicured landscape is the result of management. Likewise, a dune system that can mitigate the impact of storm surge is also the result of strategic, long-term maintenance. The barrier strength of a coastal dune is determined by the health of the vegetation that anchors the sand in place, continue reading about coastal vegetation. The plants’ complex root systems form interconnected webs that reach deep into the dune’s core. However, to sustain and encourage this expansive root growth, the vegetation requires an environment-specific maintenance program that provides it with necessary nutrients and care, learn more about dune maintenance. By investing in the vegetation, communities can strengthen the integrity of their coastal dune and increase their resiliency against storm surge. As the coastal ecosystem is a heavily regulated environment, first consult with Dune Doctors to develop a maintenance program specific to your property.
SeaChase Condominiums’ Coastal Stewardship & Alabama’s Commitment to their Coastal Communities
Located in Baldwin County, Alabama, SeaChase Condominiums benefited from the local government’s concerted efforts to renourish their coastline. Over the years, Baldwin County has implemented renourishment efforts to increase the beach’s width. Beach nourishment is a massive project that is highly efficient at combatting erosion but simultaneously expensive and not frequent. Within the scope of their regional and national budgets, Alabama’s government can only do so much to help protect water-front residents. Recognizing the critical importance of preserving and developing the sand given to them by Baldwin County authorities, SeaChase Condominiums’ HOA became proactive coastal stewards and restored their natural dune environment through a series of projects and ongoing maintenance with Dune Doctors. They acquired partial funding from the Alabama Coastal Heritage Foundation to have our coastal restoration experts stabilize their granted sand, build a new protective berm, and maintain the development of their entire protective dune system.
What damage did Hurricane Sally Cause to SeaChase Condominiums?
After Hurricane Sally’s direct hit to Baldwin County, the community experienced extensive structural damage from the powerful winds. Still, Alabama’s protective dunes were successful at blocking the storm surge from moving further inland for most condominiums and residential properties. Our Dune Maintenance Manager Larry Watson stated that SeaChase Condominiums lost a little over 50 sand fences and 10% of their original dune. Our maintenance team handled the minimal damage by installing vegetation in the eroded area and repairing the sand fences. This remarkable outcome results from SeaChase Condominiums’ proactive coastal stewardship and their commitment to building upon Alabama’s beach renourishment efforts. By complying with environmental regulations and maintaining close communication with local government, coastal communities can secure public benefits that help protect and preserve their water-front investments.
Dune Doctors are the Leading Coastal Restoration Experts in Baldwin County, Alabama
Dune Doctors is a coastal erosion control firm specialized in planning, constructing, and maintaining native ecosystems and protective landscapes for government, commercial, and residential properties in Alabama. Dune Doctors works closely with Baldwin County officials and environmental agents from the Alabama Gulf State Parks to harvest and develop native dune-stabilizing plants. We use the native plants to restore dune ecosystems for condominiums in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach and residential properties along Fort Morgan road. For over 20 years, Dune Doctors has preserved, protected, and maintained Alabama’s coastal communities by naturally fortifying their protective dune systems. Contact the Alabama Coastal Heritage Trust to request funding for private coastal restoration projects in Baldwin County. For sand fence installation, debris removal, dune fertilization, sea oat installation, sand addition, and environmental regulation consulting in Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, Alabama, contact Dune Doctors today. Dune Doctors is proud to be the leading coastal restoration expert and coastal erosion control firm in Baldwin County, Alabama.
Article Highlight: To achieve the highest level of sustainable resiliency, coastal homeowners must have separate, environment-specific maintenance plans for their dune system (white landscape) and recreational lawn (green landscape).
Key Takeaway: Traditional landscaping practices erode protective dunes and compromise coastal ecosystems. Do not attempt to manicure or alter your protective dune without the direction of a coastal restoration expert.
Fast Application: Have our coastal restoration experts work with your landscaping team to address the environment transition from your recreational lawn to your dune system.
1. Frequent Irrigation will Erode Your Protective Dune
Unlike lawns and gardens, dune vegetation does not need regular watering. In fact, installing an irrigation system on your dune will compromise it in the long run. Initially, the plants may appear lush and vibrant. However, the availability of water close to the surface will disrupt the vegetation’s capacity to anchor the sand in place. A shallow source of moisture dissuades the native plants from growing deep roots in search of water. With limited root growth, the plants and your dune will be easily washed away come the first storm. Irrigation also encourages invasive species to colonize the dune and crowd out native plants. If a storm or disease doesn’t kill your plants first, their dependency on the irrigation will. If their water is ever cut, the plants will have no alternative source and will die.
To understand more about the negative impacts of irrigation, watch the video below.
2. Fertilizer Intended for Turf will Damage Native Coastal Plants
The sand along the eastern Gulf Coast is primarily composed of quartz crystal and is nutrient-poor soil. According to the University of Florida, these quartz particles do not “hold water or nutrients very well.” Frequent fertilization might seem like the solution to help your coastal plants develop. However, a publication by North Carolina State University warns against excess fertilization, stating that it may “damage the development” of the plants and “increase the occurrence of plant diseases.” Do not apply fertilizers that are intended for turf on your protective dune. Instead, strengthen your coastal systems by working with a coastal restoration expert to ensure your native vegetation obtains the necessary nutrients. Keep in mind, fertilizer is a powerful chemical, and its misuse will result in environmental damages.
3. All Coastal Restoration Efforts Require Permitting from Regulating Agencies
Dunes function as natural barriers that absorb the impact of storm surge and as sand reserves that can seasonally replenish the beach. Because of their critical role, dunes are protected by law. All coastal restoration efforts need to be approved by local, state, and federal regulating authorities. In the event that a lawn care provider attempts to work on a dune without first obtaining the necessary permits, the coastal property owner is responsible and will be heavily fined regardless of the kind of work that is implemented. As coastal stewards continue to educate themselves about the dune environment, they will report any activities perceived to jeopardize this fragile ecosystem. In 2020, three-dozen Newport Beach, California homeowners illegally landscaped lawns on the beach. The consequences amounted to roughly 1.7 million dollars in fines due to encroachment on public beaches and destruction of the protected dune environment. A manicured lawn is aesthetically pleasing. However, as easy as it may have become for these homeowners to walk to the beach without having to step through any dunes, they also created a smooth path for high tides and storm surges to flood their waterfront homes. With theNewport Beach fiasco in mind, before requesting a lawn care provider that does not specialize in coastal restoration to perform any work on your dunes, consider the high likelihood that they may damage the protected ecosystem, resulting in financial penalties for you.
4. Traditional Landscapers and Coastal Restoration Experts Prioritize the Development of Different Parts of their Plants
The primary factor that differentiates coastal dune maintenance from traditional lawn care is which part of the plant each practice focuses on. Landscapers introduce non-native plants to develop and enhance the aesthetics of a recreational, outdoor area. If tasked with caring for dune vegetation, a lawn care provider may measure the environment’s health by how robust the foliage looks. However, while frequent irrigation and fertilizer may quickly enhance the visible part of dune-building plants, the plants’ stems and leaves are not what stabilize dunes. The vast and complex root systems developed by sea oats (the primary dune-building plant) are what anchors dunes in place. The coastal ecosystem undergoes constant erosion, and native plants are the only force that stabilizes the sand. Therefore, to protect coastal ecosystems, Dune Doctors measures the health of the environment by root growth and not stem growth. According to Carrie Stevenson, the University of Florida’s coastal sustainability agent for Escambia County, sea oats’ roots can grow up to 40ft deep! Homeowners can encourage this tremendous growth by working with a coastal restoration expert to implement an environment-specific maintenance plan designed for their protective dune system.
Work with Dune Doctors to Address the Environment Transition from your Recreational Lawn to your Protective Dune
Both the maintenance of your recreational lawn and protective dune require corresponding experts who can meet the unique needs of these two different environments. Enlist our coastal restoration experts to evaluate the transition from your lawn to your protective dune. Have our team address any potential weak points or erosion-prone areas along your property. Many forces act daily to damage and reshape your protective dune, so identifying erosion threats within your control can help mitigate damages to your coastal property. Partner with Dune Doctors today to begin naturally fortifying your dune, so you can achieve the highest level of sustainable coastal resiliency.
- Article Highlight: Sea oats build, sustain, and protect dune systems. Healthy coastal vegetation anchors dunes in place creating a natural barrier against storm surge.
- Key Takeaway: One of the first steps towards building coastal resiliency is to invest in sea oats. Sea oats yield a high return-on-investment as the plants can quickly propagate when correctly installed and cared for.
- Learn Fast: Watch the video below to understand how sea oats help protect against erosion.
How does Nature Protect Against Coastal Erosion?
Pounding waves, scorching sunlight, flooding, and high-speed winds impact all living things along the beach. This environment is under constant stress, resulting in the survival of a resilient few. At the center of these powerful coastal forces is a plant that protects the Eastern and Southern shorelines from erosion and stabilizes the dune habitat: sea oats. Nature protects against coastal erosion with the help of the sturdy, dune-building sea oats.
How do Sea Oats Anchor Sand Dunes in Place?
Sea oats may seem non-extraordinary and are often depicted in artwork, as feathered flowers bending with the ocean’s breeze. However, similar to how the tip of an iceberg cannot reveal its depth, the vast and complex root system developed by sea oats extends down through the dune’s core to reach the water basin. To survive, sea oats create an intricate web that captures scarce nutrients and water. According to Carrie Stevenson, the University of Florida’s coastal sustainability agent for Escambia County, sea oats’ roots can grow up to 40ft deep. The limited availability of fresh water in the dune environment encourages root growth, and the deep roots, in turn, help anchor the dune in place.
How do Sea Oats Stabilize Sand Dunes?
Sea oats are self-spreading plants. In addition to a fibrous root ball, sea oats also have a unique stem called a rhizome. Instead of growing up, rhizomes spread horizontally and develop new plants from its nodes. Each new plant will, in time, also send out more rhizomes. The sea oats’ rhizomatous growth allows for the plants to spread and vegetate bare areas. Eventually, the rhizomes will overlap each other contributing to the complex web of interconnected plants and root systems that stabilize sand dunes.
How do Sea Oats Help Build Sand Dunes?
While a sea oats’ root system determines the dune’s structural integrity, the plant’s above-ground portion accelerates sand accretion. When coastal winds come into contact with sea oats, wind-borne particles drop and deposit around the base of the plant. By trapping wind-blown sand, sea oats help further build sand dunes. Unlike most plants, sea oats can survive and benefit from being buried as it encourages the plant to grow more stems and helps pin down their rhizomes.
Why are Sea Oats so Prevalent along the Coast?
Sea oats are so prevalent along the coast because, often, they are the first to colonize impacted dunes after a storm event. For this reason, sea oats are considered pioneer species, a classification for highly resilient plants and animals that are the first to repopulate an ecosystem after damage or disruption has occurred. If a storm event buries or displaces the plants, sea oats will often resurface or establish where they wash ashore.
How can I Help Protect Sea Oats?
While sea oats can survive in one of nature’s most challenging environments, the plants cannot survive being trampled. To help protect sea oats, avoid walking through coastal dunes. The plants’ stems will snap under the localized pressure of a footstep. If a footpath cuts through a dune, the sea oats growing along the path will die and not stabilize the sand. Wind will erode the trail, creating a depression in the dune. In the event of a storm, the pathway will, unfortunately, function as a channel for storm surge to breach the protective barrier. Often, on the other end of a footpath will be vulnerable structures like the ground-level entrance to a building, its pool or garage.
Why is Proper Installation Critical for Sea Oat Survival?
Besides foot traffic, the only other leading cause of sea oat death is improper installation, making proper installation critical for the plant’s survival. When selecting a company to install dune-building vegetation, make sure to ask what their average plant survival rate was for previous coastal restoration projects. The industry average for government-led projects is roughly 70% survival. Dune Doctors works with the highest quality of sea oats available and guarantees that our plants don’t just survive but thrive and reach a rate above 95% on all projects. Proper sea oat installation lays the foundation for achieving coastal resiliency. If the planting is successful, the sea oats will quickly establish, enhance the beauty of this environment, and offer robust protection for years to come.
Article Highlight: Resiliency against storm surge is a choice that starts with strengthening your coastal dunes.
Key Takeaway: Every storms will eventually pass. The purpose of strengthening your sand dune is to build a resilient and continuous barrier that can help absorb a storm’s destructive impact. Even if the waves severely damage the dune, protection is achieved when the storm surge is held back long enough for the storm to pass without its wave action damaging water-front communities and infrastructure.
Learn Fast: Watch the video below to learn how Sand Cliffs Condominiums maximized their investment in coastal resiliency when they restored their dune to pre-Hurricane Sally state.
Watch the Restoration of Sand Cliffs Condominiums’ Massive Dune
How can you Build Protection from Storm Surge too?
Before we expand on Sand Cliffs’ history, here are two actionable steps that can help you accelerate your recovery from erosion-based damage and fortify your property before the next storm hits.
- First, identify any potential weak points along your protective dune. Schedule a site visit for your property and have our coastal restoration experts conduct a dune health assessment.
- Second, strengthen your protective dune. Our team will analyze your dune’s assessment to develop a customized Dune Master Plan for you to achieve and maintain coastal resiliency.
Dune Doctors will streamline and handle your entire restoration process, from acquiring all necessary permits to ensuring the completion of your dune’s construction. For a comprehensive approach to dune management, when needed we enlist the industry’s best contractors for boardwalk repairs or replacement and sand installation.
Hear it from Randy Smith the Property Manager at Sand Cliffs Condominiums
“Dune Doctors made my job easy. All I had to do was worry about signing checks. They handled all of the coordination between government regulatory agencies and the sand contractors. We reached out to Dune Doctors after Hurricane Sally. They took care of the permitting for our emergency sand placement and provided quotes from different sand contractors. After the new dune was finished, they stabilized the loose sand with native vegetation and installed a row of sand fences to initiate another protective berm. The old dune is gone, but the dune and plants did what they were supposed to do. They protected our infrastructure.”
– Randy Smith
Sand Cliffs’ History of Coastal Stewardship
Since the early 2000s, Sand Cliff Condominiums’ HOA board and property manager have achieved coastal resiliency by investing in their protective dune system. The community recognizes their dune is a valuable asset that should be invested in and cared for to bolster their protection from storm surge. Sand Cliffs preserved and maintained their dune-building vegetation by having our team add grasses and fertilize the plants as necessary. To help further delay storm action from ever reaching their infrastructure, Sand Cliffs also installed vegetation and sand fences seaward of their existing dune. The sand fences helped trap wind-blown while the plants anchored it in place. These combined efforts resulted in a dune system with multiple lines of defense that were able to protect Sand Cliffs from storm action for nearly two decades.
How did Hurricane Sally Impact Sand Cliffs Condominiums?
When Hurricane Sally made its unexpected landfall in Alabama, Sand Cliffs’ dune absorbed the shock of the powerful storm surge and 90% of it was eliminated in the process. However, besides the erosion, the storm’s wave action caused zero structural damage. Located roughly 120 miles east of where Hurricane Sally made landfall, Sand Cliffs Condominiums sits on the outskirts of Panama City Beach and experienced storm surge that was estimated to be 3-5ft high. Their beach’s width roughly measured a mere 70ft north-south. This short width of recreational beach area led the surge to directly crash into the well established dune. While the waves caused heavy erosion, Sand Cliffs’ dune did precisely what it was optimized to do: absorb a hurricane’s destructive wave action, sparing the community’s infrastructure.
Thriving landscapes are often the result of careful planning and consistent maintenance. Coastal property owners have stewardship over two outdoor areas: their recreational yard and their protective dune ecosystem. Even if there are a few similarities to how these environments are best cared for, the differences are numerous and need to be addressed in two separate environment-specific plans. Here, we compare seven major aspects of what we call the white landscape (dune ecosystem) to the green landscape (manicured yard planted in composite soil).
1. Purpose: Resiliency vs. Leisure
White Landscape: Dunes are natural barriers that can help absorb the impact of storm surge and protect coastal properties from storm damage.
Green Landscape: Backyards offer space for leisure, beauty, exercise, and pet use.
2. Return-on-investment: Both are huge!
White Landscape: Every $1 invested in building hurricane protection reduces a property’s average loss exposure by an estimated $105.
Green Landscape: A well-manicured and maintained yard can increase property value by 28%, according to landscape economist John Harris.
3. Root Depth: Long vs. Shallow
White landscape: Dune-building vegetation has evolved to develop impressive root systems. Individual plants have 40 to 50 roots that can each grow upwards of 25ft long. The result is vast, interconnected root webs that grow deep into the core of the dune. This root mass allows the plants to capture the limited water and nutrients available in the coastal environment.
Green landscape: Most turf grasses can develop roots that are 6-12 inches long. Frequent irrigation does not encourage deep root growth.
4. Soil Composition: Sand vs. Composite Soil
White landscape: Coastal soil tends to have high salinity (salt count) and is nutrient-deprived. Only a few resilient plant species can grow in it.
Green Landscape: Yards typically comprise a composite, nutrient-rich soil that can foster a wide range of vegetation.
5. Irrigation: Drought Tolerance vs. Daily Water Dependence
White Landscape: Routine irrigation heightens dune erosion risk. Before killing the vegetation through rot or disease, the excess water causes the dune-building plants to develop shallow roots. Shallow roots cannot stabilize loose sand, compromising the integrity of the dune. Continue reading about dune irrigation.
Green Landscape: Yards benefit from daily irrigation, especially during the extended periods of drought regularly experienced by the Gulf Coast.
6. Fertilization: Dune-specific vs. Basic
Any landscape that hosts a variety of plants and trees needs nutrient-rich soil. However, fertilizer is a chemical that, if applied incorrectly, will pollute the environment. Regardless of where the application is made, you should always seek the advice of an expert.
White Landscape: The snow-white sand of the Eastern Gulf Coast is made of quartz crystals. Quartz crystals are incredibly smooth and unable to hold on to nutrients, therefore, the application of coastal-specific, slow-release fertilizer is recommended twice a year. Using a basic fertilizer is insufficient because the nutrients will be washed away before the plants can absorb them. Continue reading about proper dune fertilization.
Green Landscape: Fertilizing a yard may require a similar application frequency, however, it is the type of fertilizer used, not the frequency, that will result in the most notable difference between healthy and malnourished plants.
7. Pruning: Illegal vs. Legal
White Landscape: Unpermitted removal of native coastal plants may result in legal consequences and weaken or erode the dune. Dune Doctors promotes pruning and dethatching (removing dead plant material) to stimulate plant growth. However, to protect dune ecosystems from further erosion, governmental agencies from the local to federal levels regulate all efforts to clean or enhance the dune vegetation. Continue reading about dethatching.
Green landscape: Mowing and pruning can stimulate growth while minimizing invasive species.
8. Permitting: Strong vs. Moderate Government Involvement
White Landscape: Because dunes provide coastal communities with protection from storm surge, the land south of the coastal construction line is protected. An individual must obtain permits and special qualifications before implementing any restoration.
Green Landscape: Government involvement in landscaping hinges on whether the project is seaward or landward of the coastal construction line. Anything seaward of the CCL requires a coastal restoration expert who understands the complexity of both the regulations and the fragile environment’s needs.
What does a Dune Maintenance Program Accomplish?
A dune maintenance program should help protective berms stabilize and provide season-specific care for your coastal vegetation. Like lawn care, dune maintenance revolves around sustaining an environment that supports and nurtures plant growth. Dune Doctors’ maintenance program removes built-up dead plant material, invasive plants, and weeds to protect the dune-building plants from being suffocated or having to compete for food. Furthermore, our routine fertilization provides the plants with the nutrients necessary to sustain healthy root growth, thus accelerating the dune’s development. This ongoing care nurtures massive root systems that anchor your dunes in place and defend your coastal property from storm surge. For a success story about a property that managed to accumulate $180,000 in free sand in part due to the implementation of our maintenance program, click here.
Transforming a Dune into a Lawn may Lead to Hefty Fines
Earlier this year, nearly three-dozen Newport Beach, California homeowners illegally landscaped lawns on the beach. The consequences amounted to roughly 1.7 million dollars in fines due to encroachment on public beaches and destruction of the protected dune environment. A manicured lawn is aesthetically pleasing. However, as easy as it may have become for these homeowners to walk to the beach, they also created a smooth path for high tides and storm surges to flood their waterfront homes. With these Newport Beach homes in mind, before requesting a lawn care service that does not specialize in coastal restoration to perform any work on your dunes, consider the high likelihood that they may damage the protected ecosystem, resulting in financial penalties for you.