New Signs Urge Citizens to Respect and Protect Sand Dunes in Delaware

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The DNREC Shoreline and Waterways Management  Section and the Delaware Chapter of the Surfrider  Foundation have partnered on a beach signage project  to educate the public about taking care of dunes.The DNREC Shoreline and Waterways Management Section has formed a partnership with the Delaware Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation to educate the public about protecting Delaware’s sand dunes through colorful new signs that urge: “Respect Your Beach – Please Stay Off the Dunes.” The first set of these signs have been placed at Herring Point in Cape Henlopen State Park, notable both for its popularity as a surf spot and for having spectacular sand dunes.

Last year, two rock groins were rebuilt by DNREC to reduce the threat of coastal erosion to those dunes and the beach at Herring Point.

“The benefits of this project have been quite noticeable this summer at Herring Point. Before and after photos clearly reveal its effects. Before, in April 2007, shows almost no beach, while the after shot, taken this month, shows the beach has widened tremendously. Also, an erosive gully on the dune face has been stabilized,” said Environmental Scientist Mike Powell.

With the groins successfully accumulating sand and building a wider beach, the dunes at Herring Point are less threatened by high tides and storms. More than 100 volunteers planted beach grass on the front of the dunes at Herring Point this spring to further stabilize the newly protected areas.

“Planting grass on the front of the dunes had been pointless for several years due to chronic storm damage,” Powell said. “Now the grass should be able to grow and thrive.”

With the dunes less threatened by storms and erosion, the next step is to protect the dunes from pedestrian damage. As the grass has become established, it is becoming obvious where walking on the dunes is killing vegetation, Powell continued.

“Herring Point is one of those areas where the dunes seem to be attractive for exploration,” said Powell. “I’m not sure how many people still don’t understand that sand dunes are fragile and are harmed by foot traffic, but the bottom line is that a lot of people are walking on the dunes and it’s having a noticeable impact.” 

The Surfrider Foundation purchased the Respect Your Beach signs to remind beach users that walking on the dunes is not only harmful, but disrespectful – disrespectful to the environment and disrespectful to others who want to enjoy a more pristine beach.

“And ‘Respect Your Beach’ applies to more than just the dunes,” said Mark Carter, Chairman of the Delaware Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation. “It means picking up trash on the beach – even if it’s not yours – reducing or eliminating the use of plastic beverage containers, being mindful of wildlife and sensitive areas along our coasts, and minimizing one’s contributions to water pollution.”  

Carter added that his organization is very enthusiastic about the new partnership. “The Delaware Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation is excited to be teaming up with the state to help protect our beaches, and we hope that these advisories will help the public enjoy the beaches responsibly.”

The Respect Your Beach signs have been placed by the DNREC Shoreline and Waterway Management Program at locations where foot traffic is having a visible impact on the dunes, and especially on dune vegetation. Respect Your Beach signs are also planned for other locations, such as Tower Road and Indian River Inlet, other popular surfing spots where dune protection is vital.

“These signs are meant to stand out from the traditional green signs that say ‘Please Keep Off the Dunes and Beachgrass.’ Hopefully there’s an element of peer pressure with the Surfriders’ involvement – it’s not just authority figures like the Park Rangers who don’t want you messing up the place. It’s also the people using the beach or riding the waves,” Powell added.

Founded in 1984, the Surfrider Foundation is a grassroots, non-profit, environmental organization that works to protect our oceans, waves, and beaches. The organization has 60 chapters located along the East, West, Gulf, Puerto Rican, and Hawaiian coasts. For more information about the Delaware chapter and its environmental projects, please visit www.surfrider.org/Delaware.

For more information about DNREC’s Shoreline and Waterways Management Section, please visit www.swc.dnrec.delaware.gov/Pages/CoastalConsBeachPres.aspx.