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Sand Dunes - They Protect Us, Let's Protect Them

Sand Dunes - They Protect Us, Let's Protect Them

Damage to our sand dunes is evident all around the coast the #ProtectOurDunes public awareness campaign aims to highlight the importance and fragility of these natural coastal protections and important habitats. 

Sand dunes provide natural coastal protection against storm surge and high waves and help prevent or reduce coastal flooding and structural damage to properties behind them. The diversity of dune shapes is also ideal for unique plants and animals to thrive creating habitats that are internationally valued as Special Areas of Conservation. Flowering plants, lizards, toads and ground-nesting birds all call the dunes their home. The preservation and strengthening of natural coastal defences, such as sand dune systems, plays an important role in increasing our coastal resilience to the impacts of climate change. 

The real strength of the dunes comes from the plants that trap and bind the sands together, with marram grass being quite common in Ireland. In dunes the plant roots have to go very deep and wide to get water and this extensive root network is excellent at binding the sand together – like steel in reinforced concrete.

Despite dunes being tough and protecting us from coastal storm events, they are also very fragile. Unlike the grass in gardens and sport fields, the grasses that bind dunes in place are a not suited to being walked on. These dune grasses and plants die back very quickly with human trampling, leaving the sand free to be blown away. In these cases what looks like coastal erosion is actually erosion driven by human activity.

Sand Dunes - They Protect Us, Let’s Protect Them

The launch of the #ProtectOurDunes campaign on the 25th June 2021 coincides with the first World Sand Dune Day, which highlights the importance of conserving these vital coastal habitats around the world. Speaking at the launch on Bertra Beach in Co. Mayo, Dr. Kevin Lynch, Coastal Geomorphologist at NUIG said;

…where in the past some may have thought sand dunes were just nice places for the plants and animals, there is a growing realisation they can be a big part of our fight against climate change and storm impacts. Coastal dunes are an excellent, flexible coastal protection. By looking after them, we have a win-win situation.

The campaign recognises that the increased tourism and recreational use of our beaches is welcomed but needs to be managed in a way that respects and protects these natural assets. The goal of this campaign to limit the damage to sand dunes from recreational activities along the coastline by raising awareness of the value and need to respect these ecosystems.

The main objective of the #ProtectOurDunes campaign is to raise public awareness around the value of sand dunes, how dunes are formed and the potential damage that can be caused to dunes from human activity. 

We are asking the public to help protect the dunes by enjoying the beach responsibly and avoiding activities that can damage our sand dunes, including trampling on the dunes, sliding down the dune face, wild camping and campfires, sports training and roaming dogs. 

We can protect them by staying off the dunes, keeping to designated pathways and camping areas, following the direction of local signage and watching wildlife from a distance.

The campaign will be visible our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram social media platforms including CARO and local authority social media from 25th June and will continue over the summer months. We would appreciate if people could like, share, tag us and the hashtag: #ProtectOurDunes.

How Can You Protect the Dunes

  1. In places where the dunes are narrow (10s of metres wide), ENJOY the beach and avoid using the dunes in any way – sorry it is that simple
  2. In places where they are wider, stick to marked paths and respect local signage on how to use them
  3. Where erosion is a problem, help out (or form) a local action group. Dune planting, sand-fencing, involving many local groups & managing authorities, and awareness amongst users are the basics of ‘working with natural processes’ for restoration (this will only work where sand is naturally available).

Protect Our Dunes Educational Videos

Sand Dunes: A series of educational videso about the importance and fragility of sand dunes. Led by our colleague Dr. Kevin Lynch Coastal Geomorphologist (NUI Galway, Geography), this series of 4 short videos explores how dunes are formed, they natural protection they provide to the coastline, how our activities can damage the dunes and how we can protect them.

Video 1. Erosion & Recovery
Video 2. Natural Protection
Video 3. How we can damage them
Video 4. How we can protect them

Share Your Stories & Images

We want to hear about your summer beach experiences and what sand dunes mean to you. Share your images, videos and stories of your responsible beach visits this summer. Share on Instagram & Facebook using #ProtectOurDunes and tag us and a friend.

Further Information

For further information on the campaign please email

Campaign Working Group

Work on the #ProtectOurDunes awareness campaign has been supported by a fantastic group of people from different organisations bringing with them expertise in sand dune conservation, community engagement and communications.