Dune Systems

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Human and ecological interactions in dune systems: is New Hampshire ready to build resilient coasts?

Gregg Moore, Biological Sciences, UNH (603-862-5138); Catherine Ashcraft, Natural Resources and the Environment, UNH (603-862-3925); Alyson Eberhardt, N.H. Sea Grant and UNH Cooperative Extension (603-862-6709); and David Burdick, Natural Resources and the Environment, UNH (603-862-5129)

Seabrook and other N.H. coastal towns face devastating climate change-related risks if no action is taken to prepare and adapt. Dune restoration is a good example of the complexity of implementing specific climate adaptation measures in coupled social-ecological shoreline systems. Intact dune systems protect the neighborhoods behind them from sea level rise and flood risks from storm surges. However, Seabrook's dunes are currently destabilized by both human and ecological threats. Recent beach nourishment created prime nesting habitat for piping plovers, which triggered enforcement of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) through the temporary fencing off of dune sections and potential plover nesting sites, but also blocked homeowners' individual access paths to the beach. Homeowners threatened legal action asserting their right to access the beach over the dunes. In a storm, these same access paths serve as conduits for storm energy and increase the flood risk to homes.

An interdisciplinary team will investigate community engagement tools coupled with field activities in the town of Seabrook to: (1) conduct a stakeholder assessment to evaluate stakeholders' willingness to pursue a consensus-building process informed by science as an alternative to the current adversarial approach to resolving the conflicts around shoreline management, including climate adaptation, beach access, plover protection and dune restoration; (2) determine the extent of die-off of the primary plant used in dune restoration, American Beachgrass, and examine potential causes, treatments, and adaptation toward a more diverse plant community since understanding the prevalence, spread and potential treatment of this disease is critical information for guiding preservation and future restoration efforts; and (3) engage local residents and volunteers throughout the project in order to create a network of informed citizens and landowners who contribute to healthier dune systems.