Dune in front of the seawall: a more natural form of coastal defence

On the East Bank beach in Ostend, you can find an artificially constructed dune in front of the seawall. This pilot project is aimed at making use of natural solutions to protect our coastline against the forces of nature.

If you walk on the seawall on the East Bank towards Bredene, you can’t fail to notice that six areas of 400 square metres have been planted with marram grass in various patterns and densities. Slowly but surely, they will form an artificially constructed dune. Artificial it may be, but the main objective is to let nature take its course. 

"This strip of beach has been set aside as a nature area," says Steve Timmermans, Management Advisor at the Agency for Maritime and Coastal Services. "We want to prevent as far as possible the use of machinery. That is why the area has been marked out with wooden stakes." 

Dunes hold the sand in place that is deposited by the sea and avoid it being blown over the seawall into the hinterland. In addition, scientific research is conducted on this site. For instance, one study aims to determine the dune structure that best holds the sand in place. This opens up perspectives for a more natural form of coastal defence. 

In this context, parameters such as the wind speed and wind direction are precisely monitored. "These parameters are important for the ability to predict how much sand will be deposited on the dune and how quickly the dune will grow," explains Glenn Strypsteen, researcher at KU Leuven. 

While concrete used to be the preferred material for coastal defence, we now increasingly opt for nature-based solutions. By making use of the forces of nature, we contribute to a dynamic and resilient coast which is better able to withstand storms and climate change.

This pilot project clearly demonstrates that nature – including the sea – can be a strong ally in addressing the societal challenges we are confronted with. 

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