Friday, September 4, 2009

Watch that Dune Grow! (8/27/09 - 9/2/09)

Recently, you may have noticed your local Eastern Lake Ontario Dune Steward snapping photos of the sand dunes. Over the past few weeks, the stewards took part in the ongoing photo-monitoring project at El Dorado Nature Preserve/Black Pond Wildlife Management Area, Southwick Beach State Park, Sandy Island Beach State Park, and Sandy Pond Beach Natural Area. The photo-monitoring project is meant to document dune changes over time. Every 2-3 years a new photo is taken from the same photo-monitoring sites. The GPS coordinates have been recorded for each of the photo-monitoring sites. GPS coordinates paired with images of the photo-monitoring sites from previous years, help us locate each of the sites.

Sandy Pond Beach Natural Area in August 1997 and 2009. Notice the increase in vegetation has COMPLETELY covered the walkover in places. Photos by>.

Why is it important to monitor dune changes?
Over time, the dunes may appear to be different due to natural factors and human impacts. Having a documented example of how the dunes look from year-to-year helps to identify problem areas along the dune area, and even where dune blowouts beginning to develop. A dune blowout usually starts as a small path where the vegetation has died off, either naturally, or because of human or animal foot traffic. Over time, that small path is eroded away and becomes a gaping hole void of vegetation. If we can notice an area with the potential for a dune blowout the stewards can try to take measures to slow the process such as installing snow fencing or taking part in a dune grass planting.

Dune cherry patch on at Black Pond Wildlife Management Area in August 2003 & 2009. Left photo by, right photo by Eastern Lake Ontario Dune Steward, Liz Wolff. Dune Cherry is a rare plant in New York State.

Watching the progress of growing vegetation is another reason for a double-take. The Eastern Lake Ontario sand dunes are home to a number of rare and endangered plant species. The photo monitoring project allows land managers to observe growth and declines of plant species in specific locations. For example sand cherry has been seen in a couple of the photo monitoring images (where it was absent before) over recent years.

Dune blowout at Black Pond Wildlife Management Area in August 2003 and 2005. Top photo by, bottom photo by Eastern Lake Ontario Dune Steward, Liz Wolff. Black Pond WMA is host to some of the highest dunes along the eastern Shore of Lake Ontario.

Along the 17-mile stretch of Eastern Lake Ontario beaches, the dune are thousands of years old. They are remnants of glacial action, way before our time. Exposed sand will continue to migrate inland by wind and wave action unless it is stopped by a barrier. Vegetation on the dunes acts as a natural barrier to keep sand along the shore rather than in the wetlands. As a means of public education, Eastern Lake Ontario Dune Stewards can use the photo-monitoring project to illustrate to visitors that small actions can create a ripple-effect that can negatively or positively impact the dune ecosystem over time. When visiting the dunes please remember how fragile they are. Please use protective dune walkovers and designated walkways when visiting the Eastern Lake Ontario to minimize negative impacts to the area. You can positively influence the area by not only removing your trash, but trash that has been left by others. If we practice admiring them from a distance now, these sand dunes will be around to admire for years to come!

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