A move by Parks Canada to fully enforce a ban on walking on sand dunes in P.E.I. National Park could save the Island's shores from damage that can take decades to repair, says a professor who has studied them.
To the casual visitor to the park, there might not seem to be any harm in walking over a sand dune, but Prof. Jeff Ollerhead of Mount Allison University, who has studied the dunes at Greenwich, said only a delicate network of vegetation holds the dunes together.
"If you think about a pile of sand, you can make a sandcastle with wet sand, but it's pretty hard to make a sandcastle with dry sand," said Ollerhead.
"If you think about a dune with relatively low moisture content, unless there's substantial vegetation to keep the dune from moving or decaying, then the dunes are fairly susceptible to simply eroding away or falling apart because there's nothing to hold them together."
Because much of P.EI.'s sand dune system is located in remote areas, Ollerhead said about 75 per cent of it is in good shape. However, he knows of dune systems on the Island that were damaged 25 years ago and have still not fully recovered.
The dunes on P.E.I.'s North Shore are an important barrier between the land and sea, he said.
"When you have a storm of significant magnitude, the sand will move off the dune into the beach or the nearshore zone," said Ollerhead.
"As the system recovers, that sand will move back into the dunes. So in that sense, it's natural protection that is afforded to anything that might be behind it."
Parks Canada announced this spring that it is ramping up enforcement of rules requiring visitors to stay off the dunes, and may issue fines that start at $150.
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