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Prince Edward Island National Park of Canada

Coastal Landscape - More than a beach

Prince Edward Island National Park protects a portion of the Maritime Plain Natural Region, which is characterized by sand dunes, barrier islands and beaches, sandspits, and associated wetlands. The diverse habitats in the Park provide a home for a variety of plants and animals. The woods and shores of the Park are filled with over 300 species of birds and a large variety of plants.

The roots and rhizomes of marram grass form a living net, which helps hold the dune in place
Marram grass
© Parks Canada / Barrett & MacKay, 1998

The roots and rhizomes of marram grass form a living net, which helps hold the dune in place. Research on the effect of trampling on vegetation is a major priority for the Park.

Wild rose is one of the first shrubs to take root in more sheltered areas in the dunes
Wild rose
© Parks Canada

Wild rose is one of the first shrubs to take root in more sheltered areas in the dunes. The shiny coating on its leaves protects it from the harsh environment.

Red foxes make their dens in the sand dunes
Red fox
© Parks Canada / J.Pleau, 2001

Red foxes make their dens in the sand dunes. While it may be tempting to try to get close, please don't feed or approach them as it could cause them harm in the future if they get used to humans.

Sand Dunes and Beaches

The sandbars, barrier beaches, and dunes that you see throughout the Park today were formed by the accumulation of sand from eroding sandstone. Sand dunes are created by the wind and waves that carry dry sand up onto the beach where it collects behind rocks or clumps of seaweed. The gradual build-up of sand that forms a dune would be blown away if it were not for the sand-loving marram grass, whose roots and rhizomes form a living net, which helps to slow the movement of sand. Once stabilized, a variety of other plants and many different animals can make the dunes their home.

Sand dunes are an important natural habitat and act as a natural protective barrier against the effects of storms and waves. Research on dunes and all its associated features – vegetation, wildlife, and wetlands - helps us to understand and protect them better.

Sand Dune Protection

Even the more stable dunes are fragile and easily damaged. Walking on dunes eliminates the protective plant cover. Studies have shown that it can take as few as 10 footsteps through the same area to destroy a marram grass colony. Once the grass is gone, the wind blows away the exposed sand and carves small depressions into giant holes called blowouts. Blowouts turn stable dunes into constantly shifting hills, unable to support vegetation or wildlife.

Stable dunes provide shelter and food to wildlife and protect us from heavy storms
Stable dunes provide shelter and food to wildlife and protect us from heavy storms.
© Parks Canada
We have counted about 150 unauthorized paths along the coastline of the park. Such scars destroy the fragile dune habitat and can take years to heal.
We have counted about 150 unauthorized paths along the coastline of the park. Such scars destroy the fragile dune habitat and can take years to heal.
© Parks Canada / Barrett & MacKay

We need the cooperation of all visitors to preserve the dunes. Please use the boardwalks and carpeted foot paths at designated beach access points and stay off the dunes to prevent further damage. By avoiding unauthorized paths, the marram grass will be able to regenerate, thus allowing damaged dunes to rehabilitate. Together, we can ensure that the fragile beauty of the dunelands will endure for future generations.