Sand dune restoration

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Sand dunes—a rare and fragile treasure

Unhealthy dune
Unhealthy dune

Nestled behind some of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve’s vast beaches is one of Canada’s rarest ecosystems—the sand dunes.

  • Less than 1% of British Columbia is covered by these dunes.
  • Although 30 of 37 of the most significant dune sites on the coast are under some sort of protection, they have greatly declined over the last 100 years.
  • This rare ecosystem has shrunk by 56% across coastal BC.

Sand dunes are fragile environments and Parks Canada is working hard to ensure their long-term survival.

Invasive species in the dunes

The Wickaninnish Beach dunes are currently under threat from two invasive species—European (Ammophila arenaria) and American (Ammophila breviligulata) Beachgrass—which outcompete native plants, form a wall of grass and prevent sand movement. Plants that are unique to the sand dunes depend on dynamic sand movement. Sand travels from the shoreline into the dunes like a gradual, slow-moving wave creeping along and tossing small particles into the air. Without such movement, forest lands are quickly able to grow and encroach upon the dunes. Native sensitive species cannot compete against the rapid expansion of forest and are easily threatened.

Preserving threatened plant species

Sand dunes are home to unique plant species tough enough to survive in very harsh conditions. Dune plants get blasted by sand that scours off branches and needles from spruce trees, yet they survive and thrive.

  • Some have roots that reach metres into the sand for moisture.
  • Others have waxy leaves to prevent water loss and can survive regular burial by sand movement.

Despite their hardiness, these plants do not have the capacity to compete with the invasive beachgrass species and subsequent encroachment of forest land.

Sensitive species are federally listed as Endangered, or provincially listed in BC as:

  • Red-listed (endangered or threatened)
  • Blue-listed (vulnerable)
  • Yellow-listed (secure)

By removing invasive beachgrass species, we are protecting sensitive plants that rely on the sand dune ecosystem.

A home for wildlife

Bears, wolves and cougars find it much easier to travel across open sand dunes than through the thick rainforest. Researchers often see the same bears feeding on vegetation and travelling through the dunes.

Restoring the sand dunes

Healthy dune
Healthy dune

With the help of committed staff, scientists and volunteers, Parks Canada is working to restore the open, dynamic sand dune ecosystem so that it can support a variety of indigenous plants and animals. Restoration initiatives include:

  • volunteer community beachgrass pulls;
  • summer university students;
  • beachgrass removal restoration using heavy machinery;
  • interpretive programs for park visitors; and
  • a new exhibit in the Interpretive Centre at Wickaninnish Beach.

A promising future

The restoration of Pacific Rim’s sand dunes promises hope for the future!

  • In 2010 alone, over 1 hectare of beachgrass (equivalent to the area of five hockey rinks) was successfully removed.
  • Over 60% of the targeted dune ecosystem is now restored.
  • There are currently seven monitoring programs tracking the effect of restoration on sand movement, erosion, species distributions and populations.

With these restoration efforts, we hope to restore the sand dunes to their historical beauty and diversity.

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