Beach and Dunes

Our beach is a favorite gathering place for Islanders and visitors.

Hilton Head Island Dune with sandfencing

We all know the beach is a tranquil, stress-relieving and beautiful place to be, but it provides many other natural benefits.

What is a Dune?

  • Dunes provide important storm barriers that protect upland property from the effects of wave energy, and can store storm water in the troughs between the dune peaks to minimize flooding. For these reasons, we need to protect our beach-dune system and encourage the formation of new dunes.
  • Many of our native species have habitat which is only found in dune fields including dwarf live oak, prickly pear cactus, sea oats, six-lined racerunner lizards and Spanish bayonet.
  • Our beach and dunes provide important wildlife corridors that can get animals from one end of the island to the other without crossing roadways.

How is a Dune created?

  • New dunes form when wind-blown or water-transported sand starts to pile up. Many times, wind-blown sand hits and is caught by the brown stems of Spartina grass that wash up on the beach from the marsh to form what we call "wrack".
  • The amount of wrack varies from season to season and wrack comes and goes with the tides. This wrack not only forms a good base for the building of a dune, but as it breaks down, it provides nutrients for plants that take root in the emerging dune and help anchor it.
  • We help this natural dune building process by putting out sand fencing, either in "V" shapes or in parallel lines, to catch wind-blown sand. We also plant native, salt-tolerant plants on these new dunes to help anchor them; in others, "volunteer" plants from nearby dunes take hold.

Help protect our beaches and dunes

Avoid our sand fences and beach plants.

Sand fencing collects windblown sand to create new dunes and the beach plants help hold the new dune in place with their roots.

Stay seaward of the fences and don't store or leave anything in the sand fence area.

Avoid walking or taking a bicycle or other wheeled vehicle through the dunes.

Most dune plants have roots very close to the sand's surface that are easily killed by foot traffic. Once roots die, sand begins to erode.

Use only existing paths or dune walkovers to access the beach.

Avoid removing dune vegetation, or plant non-native or invasive plants in the dune system.

Our native dune plants are protected by law.

If you want to prune them to maintain a view of the water or reestablish native vegetation on them, contact Town staff.

Do not store anything in the dunes.

The action of dragging boats, chairs and other objects in and out of the dunes kills plants and causes dune erosion.

Do not place carpet or other materials in the dune field.

This cuts off oxygen to plant roots and can cause leaching of dangerous chemicals (such as formaldehyde, stain preventers, etc.) from the carpet into the groundwater.

Do not fertilize dune vegetation.

The plants that grow in the dunes are adapted to the nutrient-poor sandy soils of the dunes.

Chemicals like fertilizers used in the dunes will move through the porous sands very quickly and can contaminate the groundwater.

Protect our sea turtles during nesting and hatching season.

Learn more about our Sea Turtle Protection Program


Dunes & Development

Trimming Vegetation in the Dunes