Pathways to our Beaches
Updated: Aug 8
Sand dunes serve as a natural buffer to protect us from storm and flood damage. Designated pathways over those sand dunes can greatly reduce erosion by allowing public access to beach areas without damaging the native plants that are necessary for sand dune growth. Dune pathways are designed to be placed slightly perpendicular to the prevailing trade winds on a beach to prevent sand blow-outs and to allow the wind to slowly add lost sand back to the trail.
Conventional logic might lead someone to think that it is better to spread out the foot-traffic impact rather than concentrate the erosion onto specific trails, but on Maui where some beach areas are visited by thousands of people every day it would be no time at all before the native plants would become trampled and the dunes eroded without designated pathways.
Pathways need maintenance however, and keeping the trails marked and clear for foot traffic is an important and ongoing endeavor. Sometimes a wooden dune walkover is the best answer to eliminate erosion permanently, but well-designed and appropriately placed pathways that don’t erode the dune face will allow the dynamic dune system to flourish and the sand-capturing native plants to thrive.
UH Sea Grant teaches us that Maui’s excessive use of our beaches poses a challenge for Mother Nature’s plan for protective sand dunes but we can overcome that obstacle by building and maintaining public access pathways.