Protecting the treasure that’s our sand dunes

15 Nov 2022, 10:06 AM

We all love a visit to the beach in summer and with no part of Northland being more than 40 kilometres from the coast it’s no surprise that our sand dunes come under pressure, experiencing damage from vehicles, weeds and animal pests.

Laura Shaft, the Northland Regional Council’s CoastCare Co-ordinator, says it’s easy to take sand dunes for granted but they do in fact have many important values.

“They’re home to specialised native plants and wildlife, they help protect land and infrastructure from coastal erosion; they often contain important cultural sites and they help maintain a healthy beach.”

Pīngao on Ruakaka dune.Pīngao on Ruakaka dune.Ms Shaft says for more than 15 years CoastCare Te Taitokerau has helped communities to protect and restore their sand dunes through education, management of access, weed and pest control and by replanting them with eco-sourced native sand-binding plants. This vital work has helped to retain the natural character of the coast, whilst enhancing biodiversity

There are more than 30 CoastCare groups in Te Taitokerau, working throughout the year to protect their sand dunes and coastal environment. In winter the focus is on planting, including site preparation such as weed removal, fencing and pest control.

This planting season an amazing total of over 17,400 dune plants have been planted, at 20 sites around the region. These plants are grown from seed collected by CoastCare volunteers and staff, propagated in a specialised nursery and returned to the area from which they were collected.

Ms Shaft says there are two key native species on our foredunes; tihetihe/kowhangatara (spinifex) and pīngao.

“Both are sand-binders, helping to trap wind-blown sand while still allowing some sand movement which is vital for a healthy dune.” Pīngao is a culturally significant plant to Māori and is considered a taonga (a treasure) due to its importance to Māori weavers. Pīngao is a threatened plant, being classified as at risk-declining, so any harvesting should be done thoughtfully and sustainably.

“As we move into summer the focus of many CoastCare groups shifts towards protecting the wildlife that call our beaches home,” Ms Shaft says.

“In particular, the tūturiwhatu (Northern NZ dotterel), tōrea (variable oystercatcher) and tara iti (NZ fairy tern) who breed and raise their chicks on the beach during the busy summer months.”

She says these ground nesting birds are very vulnerable to disturbance and death from beach users and their dogs and vehicles.

“Groups all around our coast help to give these threatened species the best chance of survival by fencing around nest area, putting up signs and talking to beach users.”

So, as we hit the beach this summer, Ms Shaft says let’s appreciate the dedication of the hundreds of volunteers who give their time and energy to conserving our coasts.

“You can contribute too, by making conscious choices to help protect our coastline and the vulnerable species that call it home - using the accessways provided, keeping out of fenced areas, and keeping vehicles and dogs off the dunes.”

Those wanting to get involved in a CoastCare group looking after their local beach can find further information at or contact [email protected]

People planting and fencing sand dunes.

Planting and fencing in dunes at Marsden Village Ruakaka.