Restoring Natural Ecosystems

On the Importance of Dunes

Coastal sand dunes operate as a defense against wave action, mitigating the imminent impacts of climate change, specifically, increased storm surge and sea level rise.

The loss or relocation of sand dunes as sea level rises is unavoidable. When this change occurs slowly, natural and human communities in sand dune adjacent ecosystems have more time to find solutions and adapt. Today, sand extraction, off-road vehicles, trampling, and continued storms threaten the dunes. The current rate of sea level rise and the record-setting magnitude of storm events, are causing sand dune damage at such an expedited rate that the adjacent ecosystems, as well as the human communities, are being left vulnerable to increased damage. Though many of these dunes were badly damaged by the 2017 - 2018 storm season, those that were more resilient offer insights for future restoration actions.

Puerto Rico's Río Grande de Manatí river outlet in August 2017, before Hurricane María.

Río Grande de Manatí river outlet in September of 2017, during Hurricane María.

Our Plan for Success

In collaboration with Vida Marina, we will build off lessons learned from extreme events to integrate climate adaptation planning to best mitigate wave action and protect natural and human communities. We will leverage post-hurricane information on where and why some dunes were more resilient during extreme events to prioritize key areas for restoration. We will use local knowledge of coastal change and the data collected by Dr. Isabel Rivera-Collazo and Para La Naturaleza’s citizen science teams to direct our community-based dune restoration efforts to those areas that are most vulnerable. 

Study Site

The project area, which sits on the north-central coast of Puerto Rico (townships of Manati and Barceloneta), is characterized by ancient sand dunes separating the Atlantic Ocean from estuary and coastal wetlands and marshes. Sand dune restoration will be conducted at the Hacienda la Esperanza Reserve (Reserve), a 2,137 acre protected area managed by Para La Naturaleza. The Reserve is located at the mouth of an estuary and includes 10 unique ecosystems. Considered a national ecological treasure, the Reserve serves as a haven for many native, endemic and migratory species. These include rare and threatened birds such as the West Indian Whistling Duck and Red-Breasted Mergansers, various crabs, and endangered hawksbill, green, and leatherback turtles that use the beaches in front of the dunes for key nesting grounds.


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 “To safeguard natural and human communities in the face of a changing climate.”

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The Climate Science Alliance is fiscally sponsored by the California Wildlife Foundation (Tax ID: 68-0234744).

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