There are a lot of blowouts this summer. We travel, collect, celebrate. And when the weather is nice, we like to do it on the beaches.
But there are other blowouts too – ones I’m just learning from.
“Blowout” is also a term for the hollows or bowls carved into the sand dunes by the wind. Such a change of shape can be natural, but it can also be forced by us.
The grasses that hold the dunes together are very sensitive to trampling, and once that wind comes in it can do a lot of damage. Blowouts can erode critical buffers between the sea and coastal communities.
“While this vegetation can handle a lot of storms and whatnot, it’s very vulnerable to trampling and human activity,” says David Mellett of the Atlantic Seaboard North’s Climate Action Regional Office (Caro). “Once the sand is blown away from this coastal cell, it is lost.”
Ireland has four Caros and together with local authorities, communities and NUI Galway they operate one #ProtectOurDunes Campaign to raise awareness of the importance and fragility of our sand dunes (caro.ie).
In a way, I wish I hadn’t heard about it.
When I think of sand dunes, a big smile crosses my face. I imagine myself climbing up and sliding down, working up a sweat before falling into the sea at places like Curracloe, Portsalon, Brittas or Barleycove. I’m thinking of coastal walks in Bertra or Dollymount. I don’t think I’m ruining the environment.
While one person or family may not make a difference, those people add up. Think summer crowds walking, playing, or making fires. Think of sports team training, campers, horses and dogs. Think about scrambling quads. They all take a toll, more or less.
Many Irish coastal communities are doing inspirational work to protect and enhance the dunes, but a busy summer “could set these sites back decades,” says Caro. “What looks like coastal erosion can often be human erosion.”
Why protect dunes?
In times of climate change, they can provide natural protection against coastal erosion and flooding. The Netherlands, for example, is protecting dunes as an alternative to expensive sea defense works, and visitors to the Maharees in Co Kerry will notice the difference efforts like chestnut fences and planting beach grass have made.
In Gran Canaria this year, I noticed signs advising beachgoers to follow the paths of the famous Maspalomas Dunes. Global awareness is growing.
Coastal dunes “can be a big part of our fight against climate change and the effects of storms,” says Dr. Kevin Lynch, Geomorphologist at NUIG. “They are excellent, flexible coastal protection.”
As habitats, they can also house orchids, toads, lizards and ground-nesting birds.
“It was new to me, too,” says Mellett. “As a kid, I loved running up and rolling down dunes. But it’s just about raising awareness… I suppose the basic message is to try and stay away from them.”
Stick to the beach, he says, or follow the designated trails and local signage.
https://www.independent.ie/life/travel/a-summer-of-fun-on-our-sand-dunes-could-cause-decades-of-damage-41888195.html A summer of fun on our sand dunes could do decades of damage