Volunteers turn out to plant beach grass

DOVER — As coastlines are constantly vulnerable to such environmental hazards as pollution, erosion, and dune instability, thousands of volunteers came together on Saturday, March 18, to help Delaware beaches become more environmentally stable.

Established in 1990 by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, the annual beach grass planting event has occurred along the state’s coastlines including at Bowers Beach, Cape Henlopen, Lewes, Fenwick Island, and Delaware Seashore State Park, with the intent of reinforcing the dunes.

“This event was initially created because two teachers at Cape Henlopen High School, Rob Schroeder and Jim Alderman, wanted to get students out of the classroom,” said Jennifer Luoma, who coordinates the event for DNREC.

However, the event soon grew in size and participation with community members offering their assistance.

“It has grown quite a bit within the past 10 years,” said David Warga, environmental scientist for DNREC’s Department of Shoreline and Waterway Management. “This year we probably have about a thousand volunteers [statewide], which we’ve been averaging that for the past three or four years.”

John Livingstone and Kathy Livingstone distribute beach grass along the shoreline. (Special to the Delaware State News/Maureen Iplenski)

During the three-hour event, volunteers planted bundles of Cape American Beach Grass along Delaware’s shores.

John Livingstone, of Wilmington, was among the volunteers. “It’s a way to give back to the community,” he said. “I hope that through our efforts this can lead to more sustainable beaches and come to help the environment in southern Delaware.”

Jessica Bright and Renee Bright plant dune grass in the sand along Bowers Beach.

Ms. Luoma said, “In order to get a large amount of beach grass planted over a few miles of coastline before it is too warm, we need a good number of volunteers to help us get it planted in a timely manner. Close to 150,000 planting units [1,500 bundles] were planted on Saturday. Without volunteers this would not be possible.”

The beach grass planting is a proactive effort to shore up the state’s coastline.

“Once the beach grass is established and begins to grow, it tends to trap windblown sands, which encourages the growth of the dunes naturally,” explained Mr.Warga, adding that the growth makes the dunes become more effective at protecting inland structures and providing sand to eroding beaches.

Volunteer Shane Cone pokes a hole in the sand before grass is placed.

In addition to its beach grass planting event, DNREC has been organizing additional efforts to stabilize the coast.

“DNREC installs sand fences to help protect the dunes from pedestrian and vehicular traffic,” said Ms. Luoma. “We also will rebuild dunes if they are damaged or destroyed by coastal storms by mechanical means.”

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