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Sustaining Hawaiʻi: Biodiversity and Economic Benefits of Sand Dune Restoration

By: Monterey Rayman

Kaena Point, Photo taken by Monterey Rayman

The Hawaiʻi coastal sand dunes are delicate, picturesque ecosystems and vital components of the ecological and economic fabric. The sand dunes urgently need restoration due to threats such as erosion, invasive species, and human activities. Centering on both biodiversity conservation and economic services, sand dune restoration emerges as a strategic investment with extensive benefits for Hawaiʻi’s environment and economy.

Sand dunes stand as havens of biodiversity, nurturing a diverse array of native plant and animal species finely tuned to flourish in these ever-changing coastal habitats. The ecological balance of dune ecosystems can be restored by the reintroduction of native vegetation and the removal of invasive species. Native plants like Naupaka (Scaevola taccada) and Hinahina (Heliotropium anomalum) stabilize the sand, provide habitat for wildlife, and promote the survival of endemic species found nowhere else on Earth. Restored dunes offer sanctuary to endangered seabirds such as the ʻUaʻu kani (Wedge-tailed Shearwater) and the Noio (Black Noddy); it also serves as a critical habitat for the endangered ʻīlio holo i ka uaua' (Hawaiian Monk Seal). By preserving biodiversity hotspots, dune restoration safeguards the natural heritage of Hawaiʻi for future generations.

Apart from their ecological significance, sand dunes offer crucial environmental benefits that contribute to the resilience of Hawaiʻi's coastal ecosystems. These dunes act as natural barriers, shielding coastal infrastructure from erosion and storm damage. By reducing the risk of coastal hazards, dune restoration helps safeguard property values, support real estate markets, and mitigate the economic costs associated with natural disasters. Additionally, dunes provide habitat for fish nurseries and support the health of nearshore ecosystems, enhancing the sustainability of Hawaiʻi's coastal fisheries and marine biodiversity. Thus, the environmental advantages of sand dune restoration extend far beyond tourism, playing a vital role in bolstering the overall well-being of Hawai’i's environment and economy.

Sand dune restoration in Hawaiʻi holds immense promise for biodiversity conservation and the preservation of Hawaiian culture and heritage. A  Hawai’i Dune Restoration Manual was written and created by the University of Hawai’i Sea Grant College Program to aid dune restoration projects. By prioritizing the protection of native species and recognizing the cultural significance of dune ecosystems, restoration efforts can garner support from diverse stakeholders, including government agencies, conservation organizations, and local communities deeply rooted in Hawaiian traditions. By harnessing nature's wealth and investing in the restoration of Hawaiʻi's coastal sand dunes, we can ensure the long-term preservation of the rich biodiversity and cultural heritage, securing a brighter and more sustainable future for generations to come.


 Work cited

Hawaiʻi Dune Restoration Manual, 2022. University of Hawaiʻi Sea Grant College Program. National Sea Grant Office, Rapid Response Funds Funding opportunity NOAAOAR-SG-2019-2005864 (HH-21-01). 

Departent of Land and Natural Resources (n.d.). OʻAHU OFFSHORE ISLET SEABIRD SANCTUARIES. Division of Forestry and Wildlife: Wildlife Program. Retrieved April 23, 2024, from


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