Parks Canada is stepping up its enforcement of a recent sand dune closure in Prince Edward Island National Park.
On May 17, Parks Canada officially closed off all sand dunes in the northern P.E.I. park, banning any foot traffic. Visitors are not allowed to walk or play anywhere on the sand dunes, from the base of the hill upwards and included all vegetated areas, according to a news release.
"It's been no secret that we have been providing educational messaging about the importance of staying off the dunes for decades," said Kerry-Lynn Atkinson, landscape ecologist for P.E.I. National Park.
Until now, there has never been a full ban on walking on sand dunes at the park, Atkinson said. Park wardens would just remind visitors to stay off if they were caught interfering with the ecological integrity of the dunes.
From now on, Atkinson said, people violating the rule could be subject to verbal warnings or fines starting at $150.
Back in 2016, P.E.I. National Park staff began closing off certain sensitive dune areas where people have been climbing, putting pressure on the fragile marram grass root systems that keep the landforms intact.
For the past seven years, the park has also been increasing the number of signs on beaches telling visitors to stay off the dunes and use only the official paths and boardwalks to reach the shore. Rope barriers at main access points in the park show beachgoers where dunes start and what areas are prohibited.
"All of the efforts over the years have still resulted in the fact that we continue to see a high number of visitors on the sand dunes within the park," Atkinson said.
'Our natural shield'
Sand dunes are a "natural, simple resource that we have against climate change" that can help protect P.E.I. from the effects of coastal erosion, Atkinson said.
The dunes are also a habitat for various species of birds, insects and small animals, and act as a natural barrier protecting the surrounding communities from the effects of storms and waves.
Every time an individual steps on a dune ... they are contributing to the degradation of the network of roots that is holding that dune in place. - Kerry-Lynn Atkinson, landscape ecologist
"If you are an Islander or a person who owns land on Prince Edward Island, you have a vested interest in people staying off the sand dunes," Atkinson said.
"Every time an individual steps on a dune, the reality is that they are contributing to the degradation of the network of roots that is holding that dune in place."
Once the protective plant cover on a dune disappears or begins to break down, the wind will blow away the exposed sand, Atkinson said. This causes a depression in the dune, which will eventually become a blowout.
"A blowout turns any stable dune area into a big hill of sand that is constantly shifting and unable to support vegetation or wildlife," she said.
"Just by staying off the dunes, we can increase the strength of our natural shield."
Islanders can find more information about the sand dunes closure on the Parks Canada website.
More from CBC P.E.I.