- Coastal sand dunes and beaches offer a variety of ecosystem services such as coastal protection, sand stabilization, species conservation, and recreation. However, the management and balance of ecosystem services offered by dunes and beaches is challenging when ecosystem services interact across the landscape. Management focusing only on one ecosystem service may result in unintended consequences and trade-offs between other key services. Understanding the magnitude of the trade-offs and linkages between services provides a more holistic approach for reducing unintended consequences and maximizing function.
The degradation of habitats and land use changes associated with expanding human populations has resulted in the need for species conservation. However, species conservation techniques can sometimes have unintended consequences for other services. Given the mandate of the Endangered Species Act to restore habitat structure and function essential to endangered or threatened species, it becomes critical to evaluate the implications of species conservation management initiatives to reduce negative implications to other key services.
The coastal dune systems of the Pacific Northwest (PNW) are a prime example of how ecosystem services, such as species conservation and coastal protection, can interact with one another. Over the last 125 years in the Pacific Northwest (PNW), the intentional introduction of two non-native congeneric beach grasses (Ammophila arenaria and A. breviligulata) has increased coastal protection through the creation of foredunes, but also dramatically altered the dune ecosystem. Both invasive grasses build taller dunes that range from 3 - 18 m in height compared to the native grass, Elymus mollis. Increased foredune elevations generate greater coastal protection services that are increasingly important given sea level rise and extreme storm events on the PNW coast. However, the beach grasses have dramatically changed the beach/dune community, resulting in the decline of several native dune plants and animals.
One species that is negatively affected by the grass invasion is the Western snowy plover (Charadrius nivosus nivosus), an endemic shorebird living on beaches and dunes in the Pacific Northwest. This shorebird was listed threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1993 and a recovery plan was established that employed multiple recovery techniques. The most important part of the plan involves establishing habitat restoration areas (HRAs) where dunes are bulldozed, reducing dune elevations, burying the grass, and returning the dunes to an open shifting sand environment, historically preferred by the plover. Recent coastal hazards modeling revealed that the changes in beach and dune shape associated with plover restoration increases coastal exposure to flooding and erosion at certain locations along the Oregon coast, particularly under projected climate change scenarios of sea level rise and extreme storms.
As part of future plover management, four critical habitat areas were proposed for Tillamook County, Oregon: Nehalem River Spit, Bayocean Spit, Netarts Spit, and Sand Lake South. Given the interest in plover habitat restoration in Tillamook County, this research project addresses the following questions: (1) What is the present day dune geomorphology and exposure to coastal hazards at four proposed critical habitat (PCH) areas in Tillamook County, Oregon; and (2) how do changes in beach geomorphology associated with different restoration scenarios alter coastal exposure today, under projected sea level rise and storm scenarios?
To address the coastal geomorphological impacts of HRA installation on the four proposed areas, multiple restoration scenarios that reduce foredune elevation were evaluated under present day sea level and potential future sea level rise and extreme storminess scenarios, using coastal exposure modeling techniques. The model projections provide site-specific information on the exposure of HRAs to overtopping under different restoration conditions.
We determined that exposure to flooding was dependent on proposed HRA site and restoration scenario, and was exacerbated by sea level rise and extreme storms. Empirical models projected the greatest flooding exposure would occur at Nehalem River Spit, followed by Netarts Spit, and then Bayocean Spit and Sand Lake South, which did not differ. Exposure to flooding at present day dunes was low across all sites, but with increasing exposure to flooding as foredune elevations were reduced to 6.0 m or below, as could happen with plover habitat restoration. Under present day water levels, restoring foredune elevations to 6.0 m or below would likely result in roughly 5 days of overtopping per year at Nehalem River Spit, Bayocean Spit, and Netarts Spit, and 4 days of overtopping at Sand Lake South. Flooding under various foredune restoration scenarios increased under higher sea level rise scenarios. Flooding exposure for the 6.0 m restoration scenario exceeded 10 days per year at Nehalem River Spit and 5 days per year at Bayocean Spit, Netarts Spit, and Sand Lake South.
Overall exposure to flooding under the extreme storm scenarios was dependent on proposed HRA site, restoration scenario, and increased wave conditions, such as wave height, period, and water level. Similar to the empirical model, flooding exposure under extreme storm scenarios increased when foredune elevations were reduced to 6.0 m or below, across all sites. The site with the greatest overall flooding exposure during extreme storms was Bayocean Spit. Flooding distance was dependent on restoration scenario and site while flooding duration was only dependent on restoration scenario. The 5.5 m restoration scenario under higher storm water levels resulted in one hour or more of flooding exposure at least one day per year at Nehalem River Spit, Netarts Spit, and Bayocean Spit. The overall likelihood of overwash extending to 150 m or more into the dune field during extreme storms was at least 5 days when selecting to reduce foredune to restoration elevations of 7.0 m or below across all sites. The effect of higher wave heights and greater wave periods was more important to overtopping distance than restoration scenario.
Learning from current plover management, combined with the coastal exposure analysis we conducted here, could enable managers to develop site-specific restoration plans that maximize plover recovery while minimizing coastal exposure. This research will give resource managers information on the coastal exposure associated with proposed HRAs and the foredune reduction scenarios they might want to employ at the different sites. It will allow them to identify the best restoration scenarios to maximum habitat restoration without compromising coastal protection, and thus balance some important services of dunes and beaches. Regardless of management objective, identifying the unintended consequences of restoration to key ecosystem services is necessary for the holistic management of our dynamic coasts, especially with projected sea level rise and the uncertainty of frequent and extreme storms.