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South Portland trying outside-the-box strategy to restore dunes

Posted on March 15, 2023

South Portland is trying a unique approach to help restore the dunes at Willard Beach. According to the city’s conservation manager Kristina Ertzner, around 15 to 20 feet of dunes were washed away during a powerful rain and wind storm in late December 2022.

“It was kind of easy for water to get through, and wave action and surges to push up and through. And then it washed a lot of the sand back out,” Ertzner said.

In an effort to preserve those dunes, South Portland is trying a new idea to rebuild them; Christmas trees.

“When the wind blows, or the wave action hits, they help trap sand, which then, the sand kind of washes and pushes over the top and builds the dunes up vertically. And [it] makes that nice ridge, which can help protect what’s in behind the dune,” Ertzner said.

Peter Slovinsky, a marine geologist with the Maine Geological Survey, said he was driving and noticed all of the trees placed out on the curb on trash day and thought about how the community of South Portland could utilize them for dune restoration.

Slovinsky said other states, like North Carolina, have utilized the method and approached South Portland officials with the idea.

“What we’re kind of doing is putting a band-aid on the sections of dunes that got really, really eroded here at Willard Beach,” Slovinsky said.

Slovinsky and Ertzner said over time, the trees will accumulate more sand, branches, and more. Eventually, those things will disappear into the dune. Once that happens, dune grass will be replanted on top.

“This is a great way to recycle natural materials and an important trial for Maine. If successful, this method may be used statewide to economically save or restore many miles of sand dunes that may be lost due to impending sea level rise and climate change,” Ertzner said.

On Friday, Ertzner, Slovinsky, and a team of others placed hundreds of Christmas trees in rows where a dune ridge will hopefully be developed in the coming months. It will likely take years before the dunes are fully restored.

Slovinsky said this is the first time the method has been used in Maine.


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