You Can Help Protect Beaches and Dunes

There are several ways property owners and visitors can preserve and protect beaches and dunes.

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Shoreline and Waterway Management Section

Plant Beach Grass

Planting ‘Cape’ American beach grass (Ammophila breviligulata) is the most effective way to stabilize existing dunes and encourage the growth of new dunes along our coastline. This vegetation is readily available from commercial nurseries, easy to plant and it spreads rapidly. It reduces wind velocity near the ground and traps windblown sand around.

As the sand deposits accumulate, the grass grows upward along with the dune and maintains a protective cover for the dune sand. Beach grass, along with other native vegetation, is the best tool for accumulating and stabilizing sand on a dune.

Close-up of a section of dune showing beach grass roots.

Individuals or groups can help the Shoreline and Waterway Management Section vegetate the dunes along Delaware’s coastline by volunteering to plant as part of the annual beach grass planting.

Property owners can plant beach grass individually or as part of a community effort. Working in groups of two or three people, large areas can be planted by adults and children in a relatively short period of time. The best time to plant beach grass is from October 15 to April 1 while the grass is dormant.

Help conserve Delaware’s beaches by telling friends and family about the importance of beach grass and reminding them to stay off of the dunes.

Erect Sand Fencing

Beachgrass must be protected from foot traffic to prevent stems from being broken and causing the plants to perish. Sand fencing erected at the base of the dune and along approved walkways helps to keep people from walking on the beach grass. Sand fence is also effective in trapping wind-blown sand however it can become buried and require maintenance as sand accumulates.

Sand fencing should be erected at the base of the dune on both the seaward and landward sides to block access. Fencing should be supported with 4-by-4 wooden posts at 10-foot intervals. Fencing can be secured to the posts using wire or staples. Fencing should be placed on the landward side of the posts to prevent loss of the posts when fencing is destroyed during a coastal storm.

Contact the Shoreline and Waterway Management Section if you have questions about erecting sand fence to protect dunes.

Use Community and Public Crossovers

A "Public Beach Access" sign on a post in the dunes.

In order to protect the dunes and maintain the effectiveness of these barriers as storm buffers, pedestrian and vehicle dune crossovers have been constructed and identified with signs by DNREC. Damage to sensitive vegetation on the dunes can be avoided by using these designated crossovers.

To minimize construction on the dune and the potential for weak spots, property owners should make every effort to use shared community crossovers. If this is not possible then sharing of a crossover with a neighbor is less intrusive. Sharing of crossovers is required in newer subdivisions. Property owners are required to obtain a Letter of Approval from the Shoreline and Waterway Management Section prior to construction of any crossover.

Although beach grass is a hardy plant its stems can be easily broken and killed if it is walked upon. Without the protection provided by the grass, the wind quickly erodes erodes sand from the dune. If not repaired, this bare eroded dune section becomes susceptible to breaching by high water and waves during a coastal storm.

On public beaches, pedestrian and vehicle dune crossovers are maintained throughout the year by the Shoreline and Waterway Management Section’s Field Operations crews to ensure the dune can perform its protective role while allowing for public access.

Build an Elevated Crossover

Elevated dune crossovers can provide beach access while minimizing the footprint of affecting the dune to a few support piles. Property owners are required to obtain a Letter of Approval from the Shoreline and Waterway Management Section prior to construction of any crossover.

The crossover should begin landward of the primary dune and span the dune in its entirety, allowing extra room for sand to move freely.

The width of a crossover is limited in the regulations according to its intended use. Crossover width should be minimized in order to minimize effects on the dune.

The height of an elevated crossover above the dune should be sufficient to sunlight to reach the vegetation underneath and allow an increase in the dune height.

Elevated crossovers can also be constructed to meet accessibility requirements because their slopes are independent of the sand moving underneath them. During the Letter of Approval application process, the Department can provide technical assistance to help applicants achieve their access goals while minimizing adverse impact to the dune.

Don’t Throw Trees, Yard Waste, Tires or Other Debris on the Dunes

DNREC discourages the use of any debris or foreign materials in the construction of dunes.

In the past, beach managers promoted the placement of Christmas trees and other vegetation on the beaches to help build dunes. Over the years experts have learned that this practice is not as effective as the use of native vegetation and sand fencing and it can smother native beach grass. Further, dead trees and brush are fire hazards that can pose danger to surrounding healthy vegetation and property.

Other debris such as car parts, concrete, cinderblocks, wire, tires, patio pavers, brick are not effective materials for dune building. They do not degrade and are hazardous to people and animals that use the beach. In addition, during storm events high water and powerful waves can spread this debris all over the beach, and in some cases into landward structures.

Anything placed on or near the beach has the potential to become debris, take care to preserve the beach as a natural resource and avoid adding debris into the system.

Keep Boats Off of the Dunes

In some areas it is common practice to drag boats over the dune or to store boats on the dune.

The vegetation will be killed in the area where boats are dragged or stored on the dune, unnecessarily creating a weak spot in the dune that increases vulnerability to coastal storm damage. In order to preserve the dune’s protective functions, only store boats in designated and legal areas.